It’s Time for Eastern Hunters and Anglers to Join the Fight Against the Western Land Grab

Sportsmen across the West have been rallying hard against state takeover of America’s public lands—east coasters can’t just kick back and let them do the work of protecting our public lands legacy

The last time my D.C.-area friends and I wanted to unleash our crazy birddogs and hunt, the options were limited to hunting on preserves or driving three hours or more to a Wilderness Management Area that stocks the land with pheasants. Most days, my English setter, Belle, has to settle for sniffing out birds and squirrels in the bushes around my apartment complex. This is the reality in the eastern half of the U.S., where we’re surrounding by more major cities and more fragmentation, while the West enjoys 640 million acres of public lands with astounding fish and wildlife habitat. As east coasters, we can be jealous, or we can be proud—after all, those lands out West are ours, too.

Image courtesy of Mattia Panciroli.

That’s why hunters in our region need to be concerned about Western states gaining control of public lands. This fight isn’t a Western issue, it’s an access issue, one that impacts millions of acres that belong to all of us.

Still, the threat of public land transfer hasn’t lit a fire under Eastern sportsmen, and this makes it easier for our elected officials to support this dangerous idea. Did you know that last year the South Carolina General Assembly supported Utah’s resolution to transfer Western public lands to the state? The state legislature passed its own resolution that encourages Utah’s unprecedented steps in the wrong direction. Ten other states introduced similar measures, but Tennessee slammed the measure. With the most-visited national park in their backyard, these decision-makers understand the importance of public access to bountiful natural resources and outdoor recreation, like the Great Smoky Mountains’ unparalleled fishing. We need more states east of the Mississippi to take a stand, or Western states could seize millions of acres, bungle their management, fail to pay the bills, or worse, sell them off to private interests.

Julia’s bird dog Belle on the hunt for robins and other city dwellers—access to quality upland bird habitat is not as close to home for eastern state sportsmen. Image courtesy of Julia Peebles.

Imagine the Smokies being transferred to state agencies. Visitors from around the country and the world wouldn’t be able to access the park or the Appalachian Trail (AT) without paying an entrance fee. That’s just another barrier to entry for American families, who need the adventure and simplicity of the outdoors more than ever. During an interview with Woods and Water SC host Roger Metz, Steven Rinella recently made an appeal to east coast sportsmen to oppose public land transfer, if only because it’s bad business. He emphasized that under state ownership, everything would come second to generating revenue from these lands. That’s no benefit to the American public, who could get cut out of access they rely on for outdoor recreation.

Camping on the Appalachian Trail. Image courtesy of Julia Peebles.

Here in the East, it’s our time to step up and stand with Western sportsmen. We’re all Americans who care deeply about our outdoor traditions. And it’s easier than you think to take action. Educate yourself and sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition to let your lawmakers know that you own 640 million acres in the West, too. Whether we hunt public land in Montana or private land in Virginia, we can’t sit back and give up these wild places.

Teton County Opposes Transfer of America’s Public Lands to the State

County commissioners pass resolution supporting sportsmen’s access and outdoor recreation spending

After hearing support for continued federal management of public lands from a dozen residents yesterday, the Teton County Board of Commissioners voted to formally oppose efforts to transfer America’s public lands to the state of Idaho or local governments. A growing number of counties in Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona have recently done the same.

Teton County Commission Chairman Bill Leake said yesterday’s resolution highlights the value of public lands to county residents. “The Board of County Commissioners strongly supports federal ownership and management of public lands in Teton County and the incredible value federal lands bring to our county’s economy, recreation, heritage, and quality of life,” Leake said, reading from the resolution.

Image courtesy of Jen Vuorikari/Flickr.

County Commissioner Cindy Riegel added that public lands are “a huge part of our lives, our economic health.” And that theme was reinforced by Teton County residents who spoke about the state’s inability to pay the bills for the federal public lands we all love.

“We are all supported in some way by our public lands,” said fly fishing industry leader Robert Parkins, who has lived in the valley for more than a decade and is a board member with the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

“Public lands are a key driver to our local economy,” said Jeff Klausmann, who owns Intermountain Aquatics, an environmental consulting business based in Driggs. “Hunting, fishing, bird watching, hiking, and biking attracts locals and tourists alike. The benefits to service-oriented businesses are obvious, but these lands also help anchor natural-resource-based businesses like ours through subcontracts for land management services and supplies.”

“Public lands are our economic future,” said conservationist Shawn Hill, executive of Valley Advocates for Responsible Development. “Teton County is part of a growing network of counties in the West that are pushing to protect public lands. We applaud that.”

The county’s resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:

  • Providing fish and wildlife with habitat, while offering opportunities for outdoor recreation—including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, and bicycling—that is essential to residents’ quality of life.
  • Attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives local spending and employs hundreds of county residents.
  • Preserving historically significant and irreplaceable cultural sites and landscapes.

Public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service comprise 62 percent of Idaho and 33 percent of Teton County. These areas are cherished for their top-notch fisheries, beautiful open landscapes, and exceptional wildlife habitat, says Joel Webster, Western lands director at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Teton County for taking this stand,” says Webster. “We also look forward to working with county leadership across the West to continue building a strong base of support for America’s public lands and our access to hunting and fishing.”

To learn more about county opposition to the sale or seizure of America’s public lands, or to take action, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

We All Benefit From Public Access, But Are You Willing to Step Up to Defend It?

The loss of a popular public access point hits home for our Oregon field rep, but luckily this story doesn’t end with a locked gate

At the TRCP, we’re always talking about the importance of sportsmen’s access to the strength of our outdoor recreation economy and the funding that eventually goes back into conservation. Access is a galvanizing issue for so many hunters and anglers because it’s tangible—it’s how we get on the water. It’s where we take our kids hunting or where we harvested our first mule deer. These special places are fully formed in our minds. They’re places that we’d fight to protect and be heartbroken to lose.

If you ask me what’s at stake when I think of public access, I picture a river in central Oregon, where a solo float or walk along the ridges leaves you mesmerized by rim-rock canyons full of mule deer and bighorn sheep and smelling of juniper. It’s the third-longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, and while the river is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, much of it is surrounded by private land, limiting access to just a few spots. In fact, until a few years ago, there wasn’t a day-long float to be had in the lower 137 miles of the river.

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that a major point of access—one that I use regularly—was closed by the county and state park. They just put up a locked gate. It kicked me into high gear to find out what was happening and if I could do anything to reverse this shocking decision.

Luckily, these issues are of public concern, and the county commissioners held a public meeting to address the closure. Local sportsmen, ranchers, and other groups turned out in support of public access and shared why this particular put-in was so important to the community. One sportsman said, “I’ve been fishing this river for 30 years and this access point allows me to float the river in a day.” In the end, the county agreed that a plan needed to be put in place to make this access point a legal boat ramp, where anglers had some assurances that they wouldn’t arrive to find a locked gate. In the end, all local agencies agreed to temporarily open this ramp until a permanent solution could be implemented.

Leaving the room, I felt like we’d won a small victory, but I also recognized that my voice in the public process is more effective than I thought.

Yours is, too. We’re all busy—school’s out and our kids have camp and music lessons and we just want to get out on the river before sundown. But, from this experience and many others, I can’t stress enough how important it is for sportsmen to show up, and speak up, for our access to public lands and waters.

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

Anglers, hunters, boaters, and outfitters need these opportunities, and we all need quality habitat once we get out there. Without it, hunting and fishing can’t contribute to our rural economies, and our traditions could be in serious jeopardy. Just one access point or parcel of public land means countless jobs, dollars, and hours afield for sportsmen and women.

If just one of us speaks up for our way of life, why shouldn’t it be you? Let your voice be heard and speak up for sportsmen’s access on public lands.

Visit the Online Hub for Western Pushback Against Land Transfer

It’s a one-stop shop for statements of opposition from local leaders in nine Western states and the seminal petition against public land transfer, with more than 28,000 signatures 

Sportsmensaccess.org, the online hub where hunters and anglers can take action against the transfer or sale of federal public lands to individual states, has been updated with new resources on the would-be impacts of transfer and highlights meaningful opposition to this idea that has sprung up across nine Western states.

The homepage now leads off with the Sportsmen’s Access petition and a new video, narrated by hunting TV host and public lands evangelist Randy Newberg, which scrubs out the myths about proposed state management of public lands. “It doesn’t matter how many promises are made, the financial realities would force states to sell off our public lands,” says Newberg. “There goes access to hunting, fishing, camping, and our way of life.”

Image courtesy of Sage Lion Media.

Sportsmen, Westerners, and the media will also find the real facts on what state takeover of public lands would look like in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Each state page contains a link to download a fact sheet, plus an exhaustive list of public statements of opposition from elected officials, local leaders, and the 115 organizations that stand with sportsmen. An infographic about the threats to multiple use of our public lands, a mandate that keeps fish and wildlife on the landscape, is also available for download.

This week, we will deliver the Sportsmen’s Access petition, which recently broke 28,000 signatures, to surrogates representing presidential candidates Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton at a media event in Fort Collins, Colo. As part of a forum with journalists covering hunting, fishing, and the environment, Donald Trump, Jr., will talk about his father’s conservation priorities, and Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) will address Clinton’s policy goals for issues important to sportsmen.

Delivering the Sportsmen’s Access petition to Donald Trump, Jr. at the TRCP’s Western Media Summit.

“America’s hunters and anglers need more champions in Washington and statehouses across the country—lawmakers who understand that access to public lands where fish and wildlife can thrive is fundamental to our sports, our heritage, and the outdoor recreation businesses that create jobs and prosperity in local communities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “But, beyond that, we need our elected officials to recognize that sportsmen see state takeover of our national public lands, and our inevitable loss of access, as a cold-dead-hands issue. This stack of pages containing the names of 28,000 Americans opposed to this bad idea should serve as a visual reminder.”

A diverse coalition of sportsmen’s groups and outdoor brands have rallied against the transfer or sale of public lands since January 2015, and public outcry has grown since the takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year. State legislatures in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming rejected land grab proposals in 2016, yet the House Natural Resources Committee, in a move that was out of touch with Westerners and sportsmen, voted last week to advance two bills on land transfer to the House floor.

To learn more about the latest movement on these and other bills that threaten access for hunting and fishing, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

Six Things We Learned From a Top Pollster About Voter Attitudes Toward Conservation, Public Lands, and Clean Water

Spoilers: Conservation is a primary concern for many Westerners, but they still don’t believe the states will sell off treasured public lands

You can poll voters on their perceptions of pretty much anything and there will typically be some partisan distinction. As a top pollster with Public Opinion Strategies, Lori Weigel can recall uncovering opposing views on French fries that seemingly ran along party lines. (More disturbing still, she and her colleagues identified a segment of the voting population who did not know that potato is the main ingredient in fries.) But, here in Colorado, where the TRCP is hosting our 14th annual Western Media Summit, opposition to water diversions is completely bipartisan.

Image courtesy of Jenni Henry.

That’s a pretty remarkable indication of the passion for healthy fish and wildlife populations in a swing state, and Weigel has a lot more data where that came from. Here are six things we learned about voter attitudes toward conservation, public lands, and clean water in the Western states:

  1. Unsurprisingly, the majority of voters feel the country is off on the wrong track. They want change. Public trust in government is at a near-all-time low, and confidence in other institutions—like banks, churches, police, and the media—have declined remarkably, too. Plus, there is an unprecedented amount of negativity about both presidential candidates.
  2. There is a silver lining: Three-quarters of Western voters say that conservation is an important issue in deciding whether or not to support a candidate up for election, and three in ten regard conservation as a “primary factor” in their decision, even among issues like the economy and healthcare. (Weigel says drought actually eclipsed the economy as a primary issue in recent polls.) Those numbers hold for Colorado and Nevada, important swing states in the upcoming presidential election, and Arizona, an emerging swing state. Conservation issues are deemed important by many of the critical “swing” groups, including sportsmen, Latinos, millennials, moderates, and suburban women.
  3. However, the majority of Westerners believe most candidates for president and Congress do not understand conservation issues well.
  4. Voters themselves don’t understand that oil and gas drilling can take place on public lands, even though energy development is part of the multiple-use mandate for national public lands. It’s actually what makes them quite different than state lands, which do not have a mandate to balance use between energy, grazing, timber, and outdoor recreation. Beyond this lack of understanding, Americans generally want to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, but in ways that are safe and do not make an impact close to home.
  5. But public lands are beloved—93 percent of voters in the Interior West say they visit national public lands. The transfer or sale of national public lands to Western states is more likely to be opposed in the West, too.
  6. But transfer is still a relatively new issue for voters, perhaps higher profile since the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and even sportsmen in the West have a hard time believing that the states would sell off the public lands we treasure. Despite the state track record of offloading lands to pay down deficits, voters are more wary of higher taxes than of losing these lands forever.

It seems to me that we have an opportunity to mobilize even more advocates for our public lands if we can frame state takeover as a conservation issue. Let’s harness the enthusiasm for our public lands, waters, and habitat, and get all those visitors to Western national parks and forests and BLM lands to stand up against handing them over to the states. It’s time to start believing that this could actually happen. The threat is real—two bills that would effectively transfer management of national forests to individual states have already been passed by the House Natural Resources Committee, and they head to the floor of the chamber for a full House vote.

Keeping our public lands in public hands is a conservation issue. It should factor into our voting decisions and motivate our actions. We should be willing to work for the change we want, not just hand off the challenges we have.

But don’t wait until the election to tell your decision-makers where you stand on America’s public lands. 

UPDATE: House Committee Passes Public Land Transfer Legislation

Two bills up for committee vote are overt attempts to undermine public land ownership

 UPDATE (June 15): The House Natural Resources Committee, for the first time in history, passed legislation that would sell off millions of acres of our public lands. Rep. Don Young’s H.R. 3650, which would sell land for the primary purpose of timber production and not recreational uses, passed the committee with a 23-15 vote. The only Republican member who defended sportsmen’s rights was Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). Listed below are the recorded results:

NAY
Reps. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.)
Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.)
Jim Costa (D-Calif.)
Gregoria Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands)
Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.)
Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.)
Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.)
Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.)
Don Beyer (D-Va.)
Norma Torres (D-Calif.)
Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)
Jared Polis (D-Colo.)
Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-Mo.)

YAY
Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah)
Don Young (R-Alaska)
Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Doug, Lamborn (R-Colo.)
Rob Wittman (R-Va.)
John Fleming (R-La.)
Tom McClintock (R- Calif.)
Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.)
Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)
Dan Benishek (R-Mich.)
Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)
Raul Labrador (R-Idaho)
Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.)
Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)
Paul Cook (R-Calif.)
Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)
Garret Graves (R-La.)
Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.)
Jody Hice (R-Ga.)
Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.)
Alex Mooney (R-N.J.)
Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.)
Darin LaHood (R-Ill.)

H.R. 3650 is an overreaching bill that would allow each state to buy and manage up to two million acres of National Forest System (NFS) land. Most Eastern states – like Illinois for example, which only has 273,482 acres of NFS land – do not have two million acres of national forests land, leaving a high possibility that sportsmen could be unable to access their public land. Sportsmen contribute over $640 billion to the outdoor economy. We deserve to be represented correctly by our lawmakers.

ORIGINAL (June 14): On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on two bills that risk essential sportsmen’s access, quality fish and wildlife habitat, and economic balance for American communities. Since the bills were first debated back in February, sportsmen’s groups have been alarmed with Rep. Don Young’s H.R. 3650 and Rep. Raul Labrador’s H.R. 2316, which constitute overt attempts to undermine public land ownership.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

“Make no mistake, these are the first votes on legislation that would legitimize the wholesale transfer or sale of America’s public lands, and sportsmen should be concerned with any ‘yea’ votes,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Young’s bill is sweeping in its impact, allowing states to select and acquire up to two million acres of national forest lands to be completely owned and operated by states and managed primarily for timber production. The Labrador bill would transfer management authority for up to four million acres of our national forests to state-appointed “advisory committees,” but incredibly, these officials would not be required to have any professional experience in forest management.

Hunting and fishing groups have been vocal in urging lawmakers to oppose these bad bills. “With so many opportunities to do right by American sportsmen and women—by encouraging better active management of forests or bigger investments in public land management agencies, for example—these bills are dangerously distracting and certainly represent an attempt to get a foot in the door for public land transfer,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “This is bad for fly shops, their customers, and the communities surrounding our national forests.”

“Our public lands system, which includes our national forests, is unique in all the world—it supports our $646-billion outdoor recreation economy, but not without the mandate to keep public lands accessible and to balance the needs of hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts with the many demands on our natural resources,” says Fosburgh.

The TRCP is urging sportsmen across the country to contact members of the committee. Here’s the easiest way.

To learn more about efforts to transfer, sell off, or privatize public lands, click here.

Arizona County Opposes Transfer of America’s Public Lands to the State

Board of Supervisors supports sportsmen’s access and local economies over short-term economic gain

Big news today as the Coconino County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution formally opposing wholesale efforts to transfer America’s public lands to the state of Arizona or local governments. The vote was held amid efforts by an Arizona State Legislature committee to examine processes for transferring or disposing of public lands within the Grand Canyon State.

The final resolution recognizes that:

  • Tourism related to federal public lands and recreational amenities accounts for more than $1.1 billion in annual economic impact in Coconino County, 40 percent of which is comprised of federal public lands.
  • Coconino County has productive and effective working relationships with local, state, and federal partners that have allowed for collaborative development and implementation of critical initiatives, such as the response to the 2010 Shultz Flood, the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Program, and the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.
  • Arizona currently lacks an adequate budget to fully support and manage its own state lands, including state parks, forests, and other areas—the state often relies on federal support for wildfire and flood emergencies.
  • There is broad consensus on the need to improve public land management and public access by focusing on effective and cooperative management of our federal public lands that includes the appropriate federal, state, tribal, county, and private agencies, plus other local stakeholders.

Image courtesy of USFS/Coconino National Forest.

“Coconino County’s resolution positively recognizes and places value on our traditions of access, recreation, and the application of multiple-use principles on our public lands,” says Art Babbott,Coconino County commissioner for District 1. “It is clear that efforts to transfer or sell our public lands will negatively impact our citizens, communities, and the regional economy. Access and management of our Western landscapes would be significantly altered if the state government attempts to take control of these public assets.”

The resolution emphasizes that the state does not have the financial resources to responsibly manage public lands—and sportsmen’s groups agree. “While federal land management certainly isn’t perfect, transferring these public lands to the state is not a viable solution, especially considering that the vast majority of Arizona sportsmen and women depend on public lands for hunting and fishing,” says John Hamill, Arizona field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Arizona simply does not have the funds to maintain roads and recreation facilities, prevent and fight wildfires, restore damaged wildlife habitat, and enforce laws or prevent abuses. Ultimately, the state would be left with no choice other than to sell these lands, which, once privatized, would be off-limits to hunters and anglers forever.”

County support for public lands has been crucial at a time when the state legislature is considering a study of land transfer. “Coconino County appreciates the importance of federal public lands to the citizens of our state,” says Tom Mackin, the Regional Director for the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “In 2012, voters here and throughout Arizona overwhelmingly rejected the idea of transferring ownership of public lands to the state by a two-to-one margin. Today the Board of Supervisors recognized this fact and affirmed that the latest attempt to circumvent the loud voice of public opinion is a bad idea.”

A growing number of Western counties in states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado have recently taken formal positions to oppose the sale or transfer of national public lands. To learn more about the land transfer movement across the country, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

Filling Social Feeds With the Adventure, Freedom, and Possibility of Public Lands

Our new Western field associate explains why he’s #PublicLandsProud as we kick off our summer photo contest

As the TRCP’s newest staffer, I’ve been getting to know my colleagues and fielding a lot of questions about what I like to do outside, especially on public lands. It’s not an easy answer, because it all depends on the season.

Right now, the trout fishing is really picking up and I might spend the weekend backpacking, often without seeing another soul. But ask me in autumn and I’ll talk about hunting on public lands, and what it means to me to harvest my own food. I like to snowshoe to remote Forest Service cabins during the winter, and search for mule deer antlers shed on national forest or BLM lands in the springtime. By May, when morel mushrooms start popping up, I’m scouring areas that were recently burned (but good luck getting anything more specific on that from me!)

Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

None of these activities would be possible without our public lands, which, to me, are all about possibility, freedom, and adventure. Like Theodore Roosevelt, I was born and raised in the eastern half of our country, then ventured out West later in life. With this transition came an even stronger appreciation for public lands. I did not grow up surrounded by, nor did I take for granted, the public lands that we enjoy in the Western states.

These lands keep me humble, healthy, and constantly in wonder. I like to imagine myself following in the footsteps of those intrepid outdoorsmen who experienced these lands, and the critters that rely on this habitat, for the very first time. It helps me see our country’s public lands the way they should be viewed, with reverence and awe, and with a sense of vulnerability. These are wild places where anything can happen. And hunting public land is no cakewalk, but it’s a challenge that comes with a greater reward—in fact, nothing gives me more pride.

Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

I think that at the root of many threats to our public lands today is an ignorance toward wild places, especially as we grow more and more separated from the outdoors. It’s easier for people to take our privileges for granted, and to devalue outdoor opportunities, if they’ve never experienced these landscapes for themselves. And even though outdoor recreation represents a $646-billion industry, the third largest in the United States, the value of our public lands cannot be reduced to mere economics.

I know that it’s a right and a privilege to have access to our public lands—and for each of us as Americans to have ownership of 640 million public acres—so I’m willing to do anything I can to safeguard these experiences for future generations. Public lands have given so much to me, and to all of us who enjoy them. These lands are part of our American heritage, but they are also finite. They need, and deserve, our attention.

So, help us shine a spotlight on all the ways that sportsmen value our public lands by sharing your photos with the hashtag #PublicLandsProud.

In the second year of our #PublicLandsProud photo contest, we’ll offer prizes and kudos for the images of public lands and waters that make us want to be out there. Take us along as you scout, hike, hunt, fish, or introduce your kids to our national forests, national parks, and BLM lands. The majority of American sportsmen rely on these areas for our hunting and fishing opportunities, and there’s no better way to show lawmakers (and other indoor creatures) exactly what’s at stake—our sporting heritage, priceless experiences in our natural world, and the wonder of encountering the wild. Learn more at sportsmensaccess.org.

The Three Kinds of Hunters Competing for the Best Tags of the Season

Win, lose, or fail to draw, everyone has his own wish list for the perfect fall season on public lands

This Sunday is the deadline to enter the lottery for Idaho’s finest deer, elk, and pronghorn tags, and I am like a child on Christmas Eve. Instead of the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog of my youth, I endlessly thumb through the Idaho hunting regulations booklet, looking for the present I most want this year: a hard-to-draw controlled hunt that could help me plan a few dinner menus or even result in the trophy of a lifetime. My ultimate wish list includes an elk for the table and a muley for the wall.

But since I’m blessed to live in a state that is 62 percent public land, I can enter drawings for everything from wolves to mountain goats to turkeys. I have public access to world-class moose, sheep, and mountain lions, too.

So do I want an Oct. 1 bull tag? Or would a late cow hunt be better to fill the fridge? If I hunt cows in late November, I will have to wait until next year to chase whitetails in north Idaho. It is a tough call on an embarrassment of riches. With so many possibilities, it’s sad that there are so few fall days (and so many demands that come with earning a paycheck.) But choices need to be made. Santa won’t fill the tags.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

I flip the pages back and forth, checking for conflicts, considering my odds, and searching for that rare hunt that perhaps hasn’t been discovered by other hardcore hunters.

I am not alone celebrating this important date. Conversations with friends this time of year are without customary salutations. We cut to the chase: “You apply for tags yet?” Paul Kniss has his sights on a 14-inch pronghorn buck. Jimmy Gabettas is after a fat cow. Mike Clements is after monster bucks.

Idaho sells more than a quarter million hunting licenses in a given year. More than half of those who buy also spend the extra money for a chance in the lottery. Idaho Fish and Game offers 22,365 elk tags, 16,916 deer tags, and 2,345 pronghorn tags.

In my experience, hunters who apply for those tags generally fall into one or more of three categories:

  • Trophy hunters, who want a chance at a record and by nature pursue the most sought-after tags. In one eastern Idaho trophy hunt, only 2.5 percent of applicants are rewarded, because conservative limits allow only a tiny number of hunters to chase trophy animals when they are most vulnerable. The 20 who are lucky enough to draw are spread across thousands and thousands of acres.
  • Parents trying to get their children interested in hunting. Fish and Game has created a wide array of youth-only hunts that offer the highest odds of success. They normally start before the general seasons or run later, giving youngsters a chance to become lifelong hunters.
  • Specialists, or those who treasure the hunt itself, and have little interest in filling the fridge or the scrapbook—at least not anymore. They limit themselves to traditional gear, such as exposed-cap muzzleloaders, trading lower success rates for the alone time.

I basically fall into two categories and my lottery choices tilt, as always, against the odds.

Image courtesy of Roger Peterson/USFS.

If all goes as planned, I will hunt pronghorns with a muzzleloader in August and September on the Bureau of Land Management land near the High Divide. I have a 50-50 chance of drawing that tag. In early October, I will hopefully hunt for my trophy mule deer on public ground atop Idaho’s highest ridges, tucked far away from roads and other hunters. I missed a bruiser during my teen years and it would be rewarding to erase that memory. My chances of drawing that tag are one in six. In late November, I will return to the High Divide and tote a muzzleloader in the snow for elk. It is an either-sex hunt, offering that rarest of opportunities to harvest a trophy bull or a tasty yearling. I have a one-in-five chance of drawing that tag.

My wish list is set. Tag Day is near. I have been good (I promise), so my optimism is high. Still, my heart has been broken before. More years than not, I fail to draw a tag. But I still have a gift to treasure: a chance to hunt.

And that privilege is one that we’d be well-served to focus on, even without the promise of a tangible reward in the next few months—or even years. The critical conservation of the West’s most wild and intact backcountry areas might not impact this year’s tag selection, but ultimately we are all responsible for which critters will be in the lottery for those kids who are just starting to get hooked on that Christmas-morning feeling.

Here in eastern Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management is in the first stages of rewriting management plans for 3.14 million acres of critical wildlife habitat from Sand Creek to Salmon and Challis. Sportsmen have an important role in deciding how this wonderful area, and our public lands across the West, will be protected for decades to come.

The TRCP is here to help you stay informed on this process and the ways that all sportsmen can contribute to better conservation and land management policies. That’s actually the stuff that makes our wallhanger, freezer-busting wishes come true.

Public Lands, Fish, and Wildlife Get a Jolt from the Senate Energy Bill

Sportsmen have been fighting for years to move these conservation priorities across the finish line

The Senate has just passed a comprehensive energy reform bill that includes key conservation provisions to benefit fish, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access. This is a true bipartisan achievement that highlights our uniquely American conservation values.

“Sportsmen’s groups, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and virtually all of our partners, have been working for years to pass comprehensive legislation that enhances access and conserves vital habitat,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “This bill succeeds on both measures, and hunters and anglers should applaud its passage as an indication that enthusiasm for conservation is very much alive in Washington.”

Sandy River, Oregon. Image courtesy of BLM.

“The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015” would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a critical program for enhancing public access to the outdoors. It also includes a provision known as “Making Public Lands Public,” which specifies that 1.5 percent of LWCF dollars are to be used to establish and expand recreational access to national public lands, in particular.

“Permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund means we never again have to experience uncertainty for the program,” says Bethany Erb, a Mule Deer Foundation board member. “Over the past 50 years, the LWCF has enhanced public access for hunters and urban families alike, and the ‘Making Public Lands Public’ provision would ensure that improvements for outdoor recreation—a robust driver of spending—are adequately funded.”

This is the first energy reform legislation passed in the upper chamber in nine years—a feat in itself—but hunters and anglers are especially pleased to see that many elements of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 (S.405) have finally found a way forward through an amendment offered by Senators Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) It passed 97-0 yesterday.

The amendment permanently reauthorizes the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, “a critical conservation tool for Western lands,” says Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “We applaud this bipartisan action to advance the permanent authorization of FLTFA, which uses proceeds from strategic federal land sales to protect high priority federal conservation areas that preserve important fish and wildlife habitat, increase recreational opportunities, and protect our nation’s special places.” Prior to its expiration in 2011, FLTFA leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority conservation projects, including many that expanded sportsmen’s access to world-class hunting and fishing opportunities.

Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.
Image courtesy of Anna-Marie York/USFWS.

The amendment also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a grant program through which each federal dollar invested is matched an average of three times over by non-federal dollars. “These investments have major on-the-ground impacts for the management and conservation of wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife,” says John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl. “In the prairie potholes region, for example, NAWCA dollars could mean the difference between the protection of grasslands and wetlands and the disappearance of key breeding habitats in the Duck Factory.”

Recreational anglers would also get a boost from the amendment, which authorizes the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act. The program was created to foster partnerships that improve conditions for fish species and enhance recreational fishing opportunities. “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act brings together state and federal agencies as well as conservation organizations to better coordinate watershed restoration activities,” says Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “It’s really just a commonsense approach to restoring and protecting fish habitat, which also creates great opportunities for the angling community. We’re thrilled to see it approved by the Senate.”

The energy reform package must now be reconciled with the House bill (H.R. 8), which was passed in December 2015, and sent to the president’s desk before the end of this Congress.