The sale of your public lands is more possible now than ever

Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.

Photo courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

And, in general, it was not good news.  First, the numbers:

The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period.  The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels.  Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022.  If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.

And now the policy:

I’ll start with the two bright spots.  Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) amendment clarifies that all existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act, which date back to the early 1970s, should be maintained in the proposed Waters of the US rule.  That the amendment passed unanimously may signal that Congress may be willing to look at the facts on the proposed rule and not just the rhetoric from status quo stakeholders.  The next bright spot was an amendment offered by Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Wyden (D-OR) that changes the way we pay for catastrophic fires, which now eat up almost half of the Forest Service’s annual budget. The amendment had sufficient support that it was included in the manager’s report by acclimation.

Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen.  See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue.  If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block.  Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.

All Democrats voted against the Murkowski amendment, and three Republicans — Senators Alexander (TN), Senator Ayotte (NH) and Senator Gardner (CO) — bucked leadership and sided with sportsmen.

The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law.  But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.

Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere.  But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.

As a sportsman who cares about access to our federal public lands, you can do two things right away.

  1. Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition at www.sportsmensaccess.org – and then forward it to two other friends and urge them to sign as well.
  2. Call your Senator’s office at (202) 224-3121 and thank them if they voted ‘No’ or voice your concern if they voted ‘Yes’ (see how they voted here).

America’s public lands are for all of us to use

Sportsmen have been called on to defend our public lands a lot lately. Short-sighted proposals have popped up in state legislatures all across the West this winter to transfer the ownership of our public lands away from the American people. Hunters and anglers have been on the front lines, often right on the steps of state capitols, defending more than a hundred years of our national outdoor legacy.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

One of those bad ideas has migrated to Washington, with the February 13 introduction of S.490, the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015. This legislation would turn the management of energy production on millions of acres of American public lands over to the states. The logic behind this bill is that energy production should be the dominant use of public lands, and that literally every barrier should be removed to make sure that production occurs quickly and with little regard for fish and wildlife habitat or access, indeed with little regard for anything.

S.490 is crafted on the principle that states can regulate energy production on federal public lands more efficiently and more effectively than can the federal land management agencies. This may well be true if one believes federal public lands should be singularly focused on the production of energy. State regulations for energy development are generally targeted at maximizing profits on state, and frequently, on private, lands.  Our federal public lands were created for a higher purpose than rapid development at all costs. This legislation represents a reversal of the multiple use mandate that has been a foundational principle on federal public lands for more than a century. The American people own these lands and the American people must insist on having a say in their long-range management.

Energy development clearly has a place on federal lands, but it must be balanced with other uses and the public has a right to make its voice heard in that management.  The Federal Land Freedom Act, however, makes clear that the public will have no input on public lands decision making when it comes to energy development. The legislation ensures, in no uncertain terms, that the Administrative Procedures Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act will be specifically cut out of the process for determining where energy production ought to go, and where it ought not to go.

The notion that underlies this bill, and many of the other land transfer ideas we’ve seen in recent months, is that these federal lands that have not been industrialized are “unused” or “underutilized.” In introducing S.490, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said “The states, not the federal government, are the ones best equipped to tend to the extensive unused and unprotected lands across the nation that the federal government has staked a claim to.”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi – International League of Conservation Photographers.

As any sportsmen can attest, the notion that if an area is not industrialized means it is unused is nonsense, and likely spoken by someone who has never left the comfort of his or her vehicle to experience our public lands.  It ignores the fact that our public lands are the backbone of the nation’s $646 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.  It ignores the fact that 72 percent of hunters in the west rely on public lands to pursue their passion.  And it ignores the fact that wide open places, like Wyoming’s sage country (often referred to as “The Big Empty”) provides critical habitat for 350 different species, from sage-grouse and golden eagles to mule deer and pronghorn.

The reality is that this lack of development on some of our public lands provides access and opportunity for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts from around the country.  Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation power a rural economic boom that won’t ever go bust, so long as we take care of the habitat and the access.

Hunters and anglers are amongst the strongest champions of federal public lands, as witnessed by the rallies we are seeing across the West opposing selling off or transferring to the states our public lands. We must remain vigilant as well against proposals that don’t go quite so far as wholesale transfer, but that will just as surely forever change the public land landscape.

And we must help decision makers understand that these lands are far from unused.

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Over 200 sportsmen rally in Idaho to keep public lands public

Last Thursday, over 200 sportsmen and women  rallied on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol to demonstrate their support for keeping public lands in public hands. Hunters and anglers from across the state urged the Legislature to ensure long-term sportsmen’s access to the vast lands so important to the Idaho identity. Sportsmen representing the old and the young, men and women, outdoor businesses and veterans came together and spoke to the importance of these lands while Legislators listened with interest.

Photo courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Rally speakers raised many issues with a transfer of public lands, highlighting the potential losses of sporting opportunity, the loss of our personal heritage and the damage a land transfer would cause to the outdoor recreational economy. A federal land transfer would result in a fire sale of these lands. “What will we pass on to our future generations,” one speaker asked. “Another gate, another fine, another impediment created by the few owning what should belong to the many? Or will we protect the birthright that is intrinsic to American society?”

The next rally for public lands takes place on Wednesday, February 25 in Denver. 

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Join sportsmen in Colorado to stand up for public lands

Politically extreme groups in Colorado and throughout the West are attempting to hijack federal public lands through takeovers that would undermine local, public-driven efforts towards responsible management of important hunting and fishing lands.

Now is the time to get the message to legislators and other decision-makers that our public lands must stay in our hands.

Join sportsmen from across Colorado to rally in support of public lands!

Rally details:
February 25th, 2015
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Colorado State Capitol, West Steps
200 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80203

RSVP here and on the Facebook event page to get event updates. Invite your friends!

Click here for directions to the rally site.

After the rally, sportsmen will be meeting at Stoney’s Bar and Grill for drinks, appetizers and raffles!

Reception details:
February 25th, 2015
2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Stoney’s Bar and Grill
1111 Lincoln St, Denver, CO 80203

Can’t make the rally? Want federal and state officials to stand up for your sporting heritage?

Sign our petition today!

New Mexico sportsmen rally to “keep their public lands public”

Photo courtesy of John Hamil.

There is a growing movement across nine Western states to pass legislation that would demand the transfer of federal public lands to the states. On January 29, 2015, TRCP staff and members participated in a rally at the New Mexico State Capitol to oppose this very bad idea.  The rally was attended by over 250 New Mexicans, some of whom traveled over 300 miles to let their governor and State legislators know that they are opposed to the idea of spending state tax dollars to even study this idea.

Unlike many of the proponents of the land transfers these weren’t paid lobbyists or special interests – they were hunters, anglers, horsemen, wood cutters, campers, Native Americans, and veterans—real Americans who depend on public lands for recreation and spiritual renewal.

While some are frustrated with current Federal land management practices and policies, they recognize that the State of New Mexico doesn’t have the funds or the multiple-use mandates to responsibly manage public lands (e.g., maintain roads/recreation facilities, prevent or fight wildfires, restore areas that are damaged by wildfires, prevent abuses, etc.).

They fear that the State would simply use the lands to promote development and/or sell them to raise the money needed to manage them.  They recognize transferring ownership of public lands to the State poses a significant threat to many of their closely held traditions and core values.

Photo courtesy of John Hamill.

At a time when many American’s feel disenfranchised by our government and political leadership, at least for one afternoon at the New Mexico State Capitol, common citizens showed up to express their support for something they are passionate about: keeping their public lands public.

The transfer of federal public lands to the states poses a threat to hunting and fishing as we know it today.  Sportsmen need to continue to fight to maintain control and access to our most precious resource, our public lands.  To make you voice heard, go to www.sportsmensaccess.org and sign the petition to stop the seizure of your public lands.  Finally, consider attending public land rallies that are being planned in Denver, Colorado and in Boise, Idaho.  This is the time for action not complacency!

Public lands: Sportsmen’s most precious resource

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

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

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

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

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

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

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

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

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

TRCP’s Top 10 Underreported Conservation Stories

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

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

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

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

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

ALL TOP 10 STORIES

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

The future of 245 million acres of public land

A lot of folks around the West are frustrated with federal land management agencies these days.

A ram harvested from BLM lands. Image courtesy of the BLM.

Our federal public lands are facing a lot of challenges, like catastrophic wildfires, the spread of noxious weeds like cheatgrass, public land grazing conflicts, conflicts over energy development, and the loss of key wildlife habitat. Agencies are running in circles trying to deal with these conflicts while making resource management decisions that will determine the future of multiple uses on our public lands. Simultaneously, agencies also must manage myriad lawsuits from multiple interests unhappy about the decisions being made. It seems the West is shrinking as more and more people are competing for our public land resources.

As sportsmen, we have our own list of priority public land policy issues: maintaining quality, unfragmented habitat; rehabilitating habitat that has been damaged; and improving existing habitat to make it more resilient and productive so that fish and wildlife can thrive. All of these are important aspects of public land management. We understand the need for development of our natural resources and recognize that economic vitality involves choices and compromise. But we also understand that in a world where high quality, undeveloped wild places are becoming scarcer, it is imperative that we work to identify and protect these public places through balanced management.

As federal agencies try to plan for the future, all these issues come into play. Blaming the agencies for everything wrong in the West is easy, but in reality agency decisions are usually the result of agency mandates – which can have controversial outcomes. Important to remember as well is that these policies and laws result from various interest groups working within the system to advance their particular interests. Often these groups are at odds with one another, and the agency is left to sort out the conflict and formulate a compromise, leaving both parties unhappy about the outcome.

 

Sportsmen must take action ‘early and often’

This might sound like a fatalist’s view, but to the contrary, the takeaway is that we all have a responsibility and a right to work within our democratic system to put forth our interests and values – and then see to it that these interests and values are implemented. Sportsmen are often conspicuously absent from agency decision making processes and sometimes fail to get involved until they are reacting to decisions that already have been made. Instead, we must get involved early and often.

Some of the lands at stake. Image courtesy of the BLM.

Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Land Management launched a new initiative to revamp its long term land use planning processes. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” this initiative will comprise the most comprehensive overhauls of the BLM’s planning process in decades.

Recently, representatives from the TRCP and some of our partners attended meetings convened by the BLM in Denver, Colo., and Sacramento, Calif. These meetings began the process of gathering public input on Planning 2.0 and discussing how the BLM might make this process as effective as possible.

Altogether, the Denver and Sacramento meetings attracted close to 150 participants. In addition to representatives from a number of sportsmen’s organizations, the off highway vehicle community, other environmental and conservation organizations, state and local agencies, wild horse advocates and citizens at-large were represented. Each meeting lasted about four hours and included “breakout sessions” so that participants could discuss the goals set by the BLM for Planning 2.0

Some of the themes that emerged during the breakout sessions included the following:

  • Public involvement in the 2.0 process is a must – and should be maximized.
  • What is the definition of “landscape-level” planning? What is the BLM’s definition, and how will these boundaries be defined?
  • How will baseline data be gathered? How will “citizen science” or data gathered by citizen groups and other non-governmental organizations be compiled and used?
  • How can the BLM do a better job of enabling public engagement in the process?

Ultimately, some of the key takeaways comprised the following:

  • The BLM doesn’t have a clear definition of what defines a landscape, what elements would define boundaries, and how priorities would be set for various interests, e.g., wildlife, grazing, energy development.
  • The BLM must review what has and hasn’t worked with other agencies, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, with regard to public engagement and the process of gathering and integrating data and information provided by the public.
  • How will this new process improve the status quo regarding how politics impacts the process – and to what extent will powerful special interests such industry groups still be able to manipulate it to fit their agendas?

These meetings are just the beginning. Sportsmen and sportsmen’s interests must be at the table, working with other stakeholders to find common ground and resolving the conflicts that will inevitably arise. The TRCP and other partner groups will be providing input and advocating on behalf of sportsmen and wildlife conservation throughout this process. We hope this will lead to better policy – as well as conservation of some of our most important and valued Western public lands.

If future generations of Americans are going to enjoy our outdoor heritage, abundant wildlife and unspoiled landscapes, then we all have to get involved and make our voices heard. To learn more about Planning 2.0, visit the BLM website. 

Take action: Submit your comments to the BLM on the Planning 2.0 process. 

Putting a price tag on our federal public lands

Image by Joel Webster.

In 1961, my grandfather and a friend hired a public lands outfitter who took them on the hunting trip of their lives.

On this trip, my grandfather traveled into the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming where he harvested a bull elk, a buck mule deer and a bear. He wasn’t a rich man, but between all the goods and services his trip required, he spent a significant amount of his hard-earned money.

Years later, my father would allocate his discretionary income to fund his own public lands hunting and fishing adventures. Fortunately, I became the lucky recipient of a long-standing and sustainable hunting and fishing tradition. I’ve been able to spend the past thirty years of my life hunting with my father, friends and colleagues.

Last year, for a two month hunting season, I spent about $3,500 on fuel, licenses, food and hunting gear. When you look at the big picture, the recreational activity of 37 million individual hunters and anglers adds up quickly.

Today, Joel testified before the U.S. Senate on the value of America’s natural resources and the economic impact of hunting and angling. Read what he had to say to our elected officials in Congress…and learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to guarantee you a place to hunt and fish. 

SFRED winner Rebecca Brown: I love my home

A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.

Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.

Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:

I love my home – By Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown and friends at Glacier NP.

Rebecca Brown and friends at Glacier NP. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Brown.

I love my home. I always have, and always will. I’m not talking about the house I live in, the street it’s located on, or even the town. I’m talking about the state of Montana. It’s such a magnificent place, with its diverse terrain and variety of weather. In a relatively short drive, you can go from flat plains to towering peaks; from grassland to forest; over rolling hills, across rushing rivers, alongside rocky mountain walls; it’s an ever-changing, dynamic landscape, begging to be traveled.

I’ve lived here all my life, and will cherish this, my home, in my heart always.

If it weren’t for the protection of public lands, my Montana might be a very different place. The vast majority of my memories and experiences have happened on public lands. I learned to hunt deer, migratory and upland birds on the grassy plains and foothills. I learned to fish in public reservoirs and lakes. I’ve spent my summers swimming and boating in public waters. My love for aquatic recreation inspired me to build my own cedar-strip canoe. I find tremendous enjoyment in hiking mountain trails, encountering the different foliage, watching animal life, listening to the trickle of small creeks running alongside, and finding beautiful waterfalls.

When I take time to slow down from my busy life and stop to look at the land around me, I’m filled with wonder, admiration, and peace. I feel a gratitude for all the experiences I’ve had, very few of which would’ve been possible without the abundance of public lands in Montana.

I know I am not the only person to have stories and memories like these. Many people from all over the United States use and enjoy public lands each day.

It is important to keep an abundance of public lands in this country. They provide places to learn, to explore, and to admire. People learn to truly appreciate nature and the many resources it offers.

The national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wilderness areas that make up the protected public lands of America must continue to be protected for future generations. They make up about 28 percent of United States land, and exemplify the true beauty of our nation.

Rebecca Brown with public lands buck

Rebecca Brown with public lands buck. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Brown.

Even though most people may think of public lands as recreational locations, they also offer valuable natural resources. These include fresh water, fish and game, and other wildlife. Many sportsmen view these lands as simply that – sporting venues. People like my family, however, rely on these lands as a source of food – they are home to the fish and game we hunt for meat. We depend on the hunting season to provide us with meat for the rest of the year. If it weren’t for the ability to harvest game on public lands, we would have to pay outrageous fees to access private lands, and we couldn’t afford to hunt.

Public lands are key in helping with the conservation of our environment. In these areas, fresh water and clean air are abundant, and the plant life that thrives in them refreshes the earth’s biosphere.

It is critical for these lands to be protected and conserved for generations to come. The future inhabitants of this nation deserve to have the same positive experiences I’ve had, to drink the fresh water, breathe the clean air, and take full advantage of the opportunities to use public lands without the huge personal investment into private ownership that so many of us cannot afford.

Packing back into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Packing back into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Brown.

As I said before, I love my home. I love the fresh air and the wide open spaces. I’ve enjoyed learning tohunt, to fish, to swim, to canoe, to snowboard and waterski. I’ve had so very many amazing experiences and lessons, and they’ve all combined to give me a strong foundation for the rest of my life. I’ve learned skills and behaviors that will assist me in nearly anything I choose to do. The public lands of the United States need to be protected so other members of future generations can learn the same things I have, can have similar experiences and cherished memories. If these lands go unprotected, they could be bought up, locked up, and held ransom by corporations and the elite few that can afford private landholdings, and soon, citizens will have nowhere to go to hunt or to camp without having to spend large sums to do it.

If we don’t take action to protect the public use and conservation of our lands and the natural resources they contain, the future will be a very different place from the home that has made me who I am.

Rebecca Brown, 17, of Conrad, Mont., is a high school senior and the oldest of three sisters. Her father is a schoolteacher and her mother drives the school bus. She is working to obtain her pilot’s license. Rebecca enjoys hunting, fishing, boating, all types of water sports, snowboarding and hiking. She plans to study mechanical engineering at college in the fall.