It’s a lot more than “The Big Empty”

The sagebrush steppe of the western U.S. stretches for hundreds of thousands of miles across 11 states. This massive ecosystem often goes overlooked and is frequently dismissed as “The Big Empty.”

But there’s more going on in this vast landscape than meets the eye. More than 350 plants and animals, including huge herds of pronghorn and mule deer, call the sagebrush home. The highlight of this menagerie is one iconic and somewhat peculiar bird: the greater sage-grouse.

Image courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie.

The folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and PBS have teamed up to produce “The Sagebrush Sea,” a documentary that profiles the greater sage-grouse and the other species that call the sagebrush home.

PBS Nature has posted this full-length documentary online. Check out all 53 minutes of “The Sagebrush Sea” and learn more about one of the greatest conservation challenges of this era.

Watch the full-length episode right here.

Or check out this full length trailer from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Western Governors Tackle Drought Impacts on Hunting, Fishing

On January 28-29, 2015, I attended a forum presented by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) titled Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism. Over 40 participants attended from state natural resources and tourism agencies, private companies and nonprofit organizations to discuss drought impacts, innovative drought solutions and technologies, and policy approaches to mitigating the effects of drought in the outdoor recreation and tourism sectors.

Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources at TRCP, speaks to the WGA forum on “Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism” about the importance of federal support for innovative, cooperative water solutions.

This was the fifth and final meeting in a series focused on drought as part of an initiative Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s started as chairman of the WGA. The drought forum is designed so states and industry can identify ways to avoid or mitigate the impacts of drought through sharing best practices and case studies of government policies and business improvements seen throughout the West. The results of these efforts will be released and discussed in a report with recommendations at the WGA annual meeting in Lake Tahoe, NV, on June 24-26.

WGA has a nice summary of the two-day event, including a video of the case study discussion of New Mexico’s River Stewards Initiative. What’s most notable about the recreation forum is that it occurred at all. Increasingly, leaders across the West are realizing that hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits are integral parts of our American heritage and economy, a realization that is reflected in state water plans, polling data and economic analyses time and again. WGA should be commended for saying we, including sportsmen, are all in this together, and preserving hunting and fishing must be prioritized in any drought planning process.

I was the only presenter or attendee with a primary interest in the federal role in drought response. Though the states must and should take the lead in managing water resources within their borders, the federal government has an inherent interest in making sure the western U.S. doesn’t run out of water. The feds can do so using two main tools, which is the message I gave at the forum: (1) encouraging cooperative stakeholder processes and (2) funding cooperative solutions. The TRCP is tracking federal programs that do these two things in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget and has profiled ten of the best examples of successes from these programs in a report released on February 26, both of which I’ve written about before (e.g., here and here).

While the drought forum met its main goal of creating a dialogue about problems, best practices and solutions, it’s unclear whether WGA has the ability to move the dialogue into action. There was little talk about replicating the best practices discussed or commitment to changing state policies that may be stifling innovative solutions. Sportsmen should look to the WGA report and recommendations in June to be the judge. In the meantime, sportsmen can help by joining the WGA mailing list at westgov.org and providing comments on the findings of individual drought forum meetings at the Drought Forum website.

Conserving the Last of the Old West

Nevada is truly a sportsmen’s paradise, a place where you can still find vast expanses of public lands and feel like you’ve got it all to yourself. If you haven’t already had the opportunity to hunt or fish in the Silver State, I hope that someday you will.

The TRCP is working closely with sporting groups across the West to make sure that places like this will be available for future generations of hunters and anglers to enjoy, and we need your help.

It’s no secret that the continual development of new roads, power lines, pipelines, gas wells and wind farms on public lands creates pressure on our best fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing across the West. Energy development is important and necessary, but if we develop irresponsibly and in the wrong places, our outdoor traditions will suffer.  

The fragmentation and loss of key habitats are serious threats facing fish, wildlife and our sporting heritage. In Nevada, specific threats largely come from wind developments as well as transmission projects

Sportsmen are at the center of it all. The amount of quality habitat that could be lost just in our lifetimes is staggering. Hunters and anglers are at a crossroads, and the direction we move will have lasting ramifications for generations to come.

To that end, sportsmen across the West are getting involved in a grassroots effort to identify and conserve our highest value intact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing areas on BLM lands. By promoting the creation of “backcountry conservation areas” (called “backcountry wildlife conservation areas” in Nevada), sportsmen are acting to maintain our sporting traditions and the Western way of life.

We need you to speak up for the responsible management of our best fish and wildlife habitat. Learn more and let the BLM know that Nevada’s backcountry lands are important to hunters and anglers.

“I feel pretty lucky to be able to work is such an amazing state. There are so many amazing places in the West, and each has its own special character. Nevada is one of those special places where you can still get away from crowds in vast unspoiled landscapes. Whether your passion is hunting for big game, pursuing upland birds, or fishing, the only way we’re going to protect the Western way of life is to get involved, stay informed and speak out – and then get out and enjoy our Western public lands.”

- TRCP’s Nevada Field Representative, Eric Petlock.

If we want to continue chasing big bull elk, mule deer, antelope and bighorn sheep in the West we must take action and get involved – and work together to conserve areas of core habitat key to the fish and wildlife we cherish. The more habitat we lose the more hunting and angling opportunity we will lose.

Learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to ensure backcountry conservation.