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.

A Special Place, its Champions, and a Long Goodbye

After years of gathering critical habitat data and opening minds to the conservation possibilities in the Missouri Breaks, our longtime friend and colleague passes the torch 

If you drive east out of Lewistown, Montana, for fifty miles or so—over the southern flanks of the Judith Range and along the course of McDonald Creek, through Grass Range and Teigen, a community that once anchored a ranch so big that it still has its own zip code—you’ll reach the little town of Winnett. With the vast sagebrush steppe unfolding in front of you and wind-scoured cliffs and coulees full of green grass on either side of the gravel road, it’s not uncommon to witness small flocks of sage hens flushing and rocketing away towards pronghorns lit pale-orange and white against a gray backdrop.

Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

For the past two years that I’ve worked for the TRCP, I’ve been lost, both literally and metaphorically, in this landscape.

In the distance, the Missouri Breaks begin to appear, with dark lines of timber on the ridgeline. There’s little to suggest that you are on the brink of another world, yet you’re poised at the edge of what may be the best public-lands trophy elk hunting on the planet. Off to the east, you see the deeply incised and snaking lines of Blood Creek, Dry Blood Creek, Drag Creek, or the mother of them all, Crooked Creek, where big yellow-barked Ponderosa pines and rich grass replace the sagebrush. The creeks all cut steeply away towards the Musselshell River, which eventually joins the mighty Missouri.

The road takes you into what must be one of the most complicated systems of coulees in the world, a vast public lands puzzle of hidden sandstone cliffs, hogback ridges of soft white clay, and lost cul-de-sacs, where Old West outlaws held out well into the 20th century and where the traces of warring and hunting Native American tribes can still be found. Today it is home to the second-largest elk herd in the state of Montana, to mossbacked old mule deer bucks, mountain lions, sharp-tailed grouse, and a growing population of Merriam’s turkeys.

For so many Montana hunters, especially archery hunters, this is the heart of the state, and the heart of hunting itself—an experience and adventure like no other. Unlike our traditional Rocky Mountain elk country of aspens, high country meadows, and jagged peaks, in this strange place an elk hunter goes down into the earth. He leaves the prairies for the coulees, most of them branching off wildly, like nerves or arteries that are miles upon miles long and some of them hundreds of feet deep.

In early 2014, when the Lewistown field office of the Bureau of Land Management began working on a new Resource Management Plan for this area, I went to work for the TRCP to identify the local public lands that hunters most depend on, and the lands that have the best wildlife habitat, access, and opportunities for real backcountry recreation and experiences.

I talked with biologists and land managers from the state and BLM and with landowners, old time Montana conservation leaders, and, most of all, elk and mule deer hunters. I drove a couple of thousand miles of road, hiked over forty miles of ridge and coulee, followed elk, looked for horns in May, and shot sharptails in September. I was lost and desperately thirsty at least twice, and I whiteknuckled the incredible Dunn’s Ridge Road (Dunn’s is more like a one-lane path inscribed into the top of a narrow gumbo ridgeline, with cold-sweat-inducing drops on both sides) all the way down to the Musselshell bottoms. Rancher and conservationist Hugo Turek of Coffee Creek, Montana—a great supporter of our work—graciously let me hike across his fields and into the magnificent public lands of the Arrow Creek Breaks, a band of critical habitat for mule deer and sharptails, where Hugo has sustainably grazed his cattle herds for the past two decades, while maintaining access for hunters in the fall.

Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

I took my then-eleven-year-old daughter on a hike through the Judith Mountains—named by William Clark in 1805, after his cousin and sweetheart, Judith Hancock—where we glassed the big-game winter ranges, trying to find a way into the deep canyons. This is where we found Collar Gulch Creek, where there is a population of native Westslope cutthroat trout—the easternmost population known to be remaining on earth—despite the “devil take the hindmost” history of gold mining booms of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Judiths. Imagine that.

Drawing from dozens of interviews with local hunters and others who know the Breaks better than I ever will, the TRCP worked with some key sportsmen leaders and five other sportsmen’s groups to draw up a formal comment to the Lewistown BLM Field Office to explain that these valuable lands should be managed to conserve their intact character, maintain important public access, and support traditional uses through a moderate new conservation tool called Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCA). We included maps, descriptions of the hunting country and uses by sportsmen, and definitions of the BCA concept that, in its keep-it-like-it-is management strategy, fits so much of this public land like a leather workglove.

Hal Herring afield with his son and dog. (Image courtesy of Hal Herring)

In the end, sportsmen nominated four individual tracts of BLM lands for BCA management. We included the Crooked Creek country, the Arrow Creek Breaks and the best of the Judiths, including Collar Gulch, and the intact expanses of big-game winter range that are so unique to this sky-island on the plains. Sportsmen and women are now hopeful that the BLM will consider managing these areas with the common sense BCA approach through the upcoming Lewistown draft Resource Management Plan.

It’s an even bigger opportunity for the TRCP to join with hunters across Montana and the U.S. to make sure the best of these lands are conserved with the existing access to them maintained. Where necessary and possible, it’s an opportunity to see that wildlife habitat and rangelands are restored and made more productive. The possibilities are almost endless: In my final discussions with some local community leaders, we discussed the need for a partnership between conservationists and grazers to control weeds and improve wildlife range, and how BCAs can be used as a way to focus our energy on conserving and restoring the best of the best lands for hunting, grazing, and recreation.

Now, I’m passing my work on to Scott Laird, whom I’ve known and respected for more than a decade and who will be able to take on this effort full-time, full-bore, and full-speed in a way I cannot. I’ve introduced him to some of the friends I’ve made in Lewistown and have no doubt that, with their support, and the support of a few hundred more like them, hunter-conservationists can make a permanent contribution to the future of the Missouri Breaks and the whole of Montana.

I’m leaving the TRCP as the same true believer that I was when I started. I’ll help in any way I can.

Locked Out: Montana’s Missouri River Breaks

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

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

In Part Six of our series, we head to the north-central part of Montana.

Thousands of years ago, the Missouri River in Montana ran north of where it is today. As the ice ages ended, the river took a new course below the Bears Paw Mountains, near the present-day town of Havre, cutting a wide channel through the fine clay soils of the plains. Rain and snow have since carved the earth into a vast and twisted maze of coulees and canyons, some of them hundreds of feet deep, marked by cliffs of yellow sandstone and weathered buttes, steep slopes of scree and gumbo soil.

Image courtesy of BLM.

The Breaks were one of the last places to be settled in the West. Much of the land went unclaimed while the region was homesteaded. A lot more of the land was abandoned later, when fierce winters and seemingly endless droughts forced even the toughest families to leave.

Today, most of the Missouri Breaks is public land in the care of the Bureau of Land Management. American hunters know it as perhaps the most unique and legendary elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep country in the world. If you’ve never seen it, ponder this: Mountain hunters are accustomed to going up into the hills to seek their quarry. In the Breaks, you hike down, eventually reaching the big river itself. This is the home of the second-largest elk herd in Montana and some of the West’s biggest trophy bulls.

Nothing comes easy here. There’s galling heat, clouds of mosquitoes, and big rattlers during bugling season. Sometimes in September there’s snow or gumbo mud that will defeat the most determined off-roader. By November, there’s howling blizzards and subzero temperatures. Here, you pack meat uphill and risk missing that one coulee that leads back to the truck. It’s a tough place, and that’s the way Missouri Breaks hunters like it.

Image courtesy of BLM.

So, imagine their dismay at hearing the Breaks are in the crosshairs of the movement to transfer public lands into state—and possible private—ownership. On June 24, 2014, the Montana GOP announced that it had taken a position of “shifting public land management away from Washington, D.C., control,” and interest in private ownership of Missouri Breaks land remains at a record high.

A Texas family recently purchased more than 300,000 acres in the area for hunting purposes. The once-abandoned and unclaimed lands, now rich with big game, solitude, and adventure, are the on-the-ground equivalent of diamonds and gold. If transferred to the state of Montana, these lands could be sold and closed forever to the average American sportsman.

Five individual bills were introduced into the Montana legislature in 2015, and all sought to eliminate or undermine America’s public lands legacy. Rank-and-file sportsmen reacted strongly to these proposals and several hundred of them rallied at the Montana Capitol in opposition to the seizure of public lands. In the end, the voice of sportsmen carried the day, and lawmakers put a stop to every land seizure bill under consideration.

We won this round, but those who want to seize your outdoor riches and opportunities for great adventure will be back with new proposals aimed at eliminating America’s public lands legacy. Sportsmen must be prepared to fight another day.

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

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

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.

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.

Firefighting and sportsmen: Why we support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – and why you should, too

There is nothing like summer in Montana for a young man with a truck and a fly rod.  Incredible fishing in any number of rivers, streams and lakes starts in the early spring and continues through the fall, especially if you’re willing to hike, wade and paddle your way into waters where the trout haven’t seen the same $1.99 foam hoppers swing by every day since June.

Norman Maclean could write a book about Montana summers today and not stray too far from the original text of A River Runs Through It. One can imagine, however, the shocked look on his face upon awakening to a Missoula valley drowned by smoke each July and August, so much so that the sun rises bright orange over Hellgate Canyon each morning. Homes burn, habitat is destroyed, and the constant thud of helicopters ferrying water to the blazes can be heard everywhere.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Catastrophic wildfires are threatening communities across the West. Now, however, Congress has the opportunity to do something about it.

Ordinary wildfires are constant in Western summers. We devour the morel mushrooms that spring up in burned areas each spring; we praise the brave men and women who dedicate their summers to cutting breaks, clearing brush and jumping out of rickety airplanes; and we bear the routine evacuations and air quality concerns without too much complaint. They are a part of life; indeed, Smokey Bear is as much of a cultural icon for us as Rosie the Riveter. Let us not forget that this is a vital ecological process. We know that fires are integral to healthy forest ecosystems. Typical wildfires eliminate weaker trees and saplings from the understory, push back the underbrush and clear the way for new plant life to emerge. This process is necessary – not only to the health of the forest but also to the game populations we prize, like mule deer, elk and ruffed grouse.

Catastrophic wildfires, which consume hundreds of thousands of acres and ravage communities, are an entirely different animal. These fires are a distinctly unnatural process resulting from climate change, insects and poor forestry management. Sen. John McCain referenced their origins recently while testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, labeling them “manmade disasters” and calling for immediate reforms to the Forest Service’s suppression and prevention strategies.

One hundred and thirty-one other members of Congress also have expressed support for commonsense reforms like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1875 and H.R. 3992) because they realize the severe ramifications of doing nothing. Indeed, the cost of wildfires today would be considerably lower if the Forest Service was able to effectively engage in its congressionally mandated activities. Legislation like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would put an end   to the practice of borrowing funds from vital programs integral to land management and fire prevention across the United States to pay for fire suppression costs.

Conservation is about doing what you can, when you can. Otherwise, the land suffers, and we who hunt and fish suffer with it. We have a responsibility to support efforts to advance sound, results-oriented conservation measures, and we cannot continue to allow the individuals we elect to play games with the lands we know and love. Check and see if your senator or representative supports a change for wildfire funding. If they don’t, make sure they know you do.

Urge Congress to take action on wildfire funding today.


Mapping Project Brings on-the-Ground Results for Sportsmen

Montana sportsmen mapping prized areas of the state as part of the Sportsmen Values Mapping Project.

Involving the American sportsman in issues that affect our hunting and fishing heritage is fundamental to maintaining our outdoor heritage. Here at the TRCP we try and ensure sportsman involvement occurs at a level where impacts and results tend to be clear and immediate. To this end, the TRCP has developed a state-specific approach to capture input from local hunters and anglers called the Sportsmen Values Mapping Project.

As part of the project, TRCP staff members meet with sporting groups, conservation organizations and rod and gun clubs to identify “bread and butter” hunting and fishing areas in various states. You might wonder why anyone would reveal a favorite honey. When combined with critical habitat maps already in use by federal and state agencies, this information provides a powerful tool for politicians and decision-makers to use in public lands management.

The project’s goal is ensuring sportsmen are represented in management decisions by highlighting the exact areas they want to see managed for the continued and future use of hunting and fishing.

The success of the mapping project has earned recognition both at home and abroad and is largely held as a case study on how sportsmen can participate in land management and public policy. Recently, TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development Director Ed Arnett gave a presentation about the project at the Conference on Wind Power and Environmental Impacts. The conference, held in Stockholm, Sweden, was attended by more than 300 people from at least 30 countries.

The TRCP’s Center for Responsible Energy Development Director, Ed Arnett. Photo courtesy of Mark Weaver.

During the presentation, Arnett highlighted the project as tool for wind energy developers and decision-makers to use in identifying key, high-use areas warranting special conservation strategies and in avoiding conflict with sportsmen and other stakeholders. As presented, the mapping project provides valuable and previously unavailable data that will aid in balancing energy development with the needs of fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

As Arnett returns from the international conference, he continues to ensure that decision-makers balance the needs of fish, wildlife and sportsmen with the impacts of land-use management decisions across all economic sectors to ensure a strong economy into the future. The TRCP Sportsmen Values Mapping Project is critically important to achieving that balance.

The project is expected to grow in the coming years.  In Wyoming, Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard will be returning to those communities that participated in the project to present results and develop opportunities for place-based, grassroots campaigns to protect areas important to sportsmen.  The TRCP plans to expand the mapping project to more western states in the near future.

Learn more about the Wyoming mapping Project.

Learn more about the Montana mapping Project.

Get involved today by signing up as a TRCP member.