A bill in Congress that would have sold more than 3 million acres of public lands in the West has been shelved. Image: Aaron Kindle
By Judith Kohler
DENVER – Sportsmen and women and other conservationists and outdoor advocates voiced appreciation Thursday after a plan to sell more than 3 million acres of national public lands was halted, but pledged to stay vigilant as other bills to dispose of or undermine the management of public lands advance at the state and federal levels.
The decision by Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz to not pursue HR 621, which would have sold a total of 3.3 million acres of public lands in 10 Western states, came as welcome news to the sportsmen and women for whom public lands “are the backbone of our sporting traditions,” said Aaron Kindle, the National Wildlife Federation’s Western sportsmen’s campaign manager.
“We hope this decision signals that Rep. Chaffetz and his congressional colleagues are starting to understand how important these lands are to Americans and that they’ll cease their efforts to seize them from the public trust,” Kindle added.
However, Kindle and other sportsmen noted that a new House rule makes it easier to sell or transfer public lands by claiming their disposal wouldn’t negatively affect federal revenue. Plans are also underway in Congress to rescind improvements that have been made to public-lands management. That includes the Bureau of Land Management’s Planning 2.0 initiative, which provides more opportunities for public input and more comprehensive planning to address conflicts upfront and consider the impacts of development on water, air, fish and wildlife.
Sportsmen joined members of conservation and community organizations and other outdoor enthusiasts from across the political spectrum to pack the statehouses in Montana and New Mexico this week for rallies in support of keeping public lands in public hands and conserving hunting, fishing and recreation opportunities.
"The grassroots spoke on HR 621, and Rep. Chaffetz listened. It is heartening in a time of such deep political strife to have our leaders in Washington respond to the voice of the people," said Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
"There are lots of ideas flying around in Washington about how to change public land management. I hope that our elected officials continue to recognize that people in Montana and across the West love our public lands and want to see them protected so that future generations can hunt, fish, and enjoy the outdoors," Chadwick added.
“At a time when more and more elected officials are calling to sell off our public lands, the decision by Congressman Chaffetz to pull HR 621 after a huge backlash from Westerners is a strong reminder that our voices matter,” said Garrett Vene Klasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
“Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts in Montana and New Mexico and across the West organized and sent a clear message that our public lands are not for sale, and that message was heard this week. While this is far from the last battle we'll see for our public lands, the withdrawal from HR 621 is a crucial victory for all Americans," Vene Klasen added.
Garrett Vene Klasen of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation says sportsmen are clear about supporting public lands. Image: Lew Carpenter
From sagebrush country to remote forests, our national public lands belong to all Americans. Image: Aaron Kindle
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune." ~ President Theodore Roosevelt.
By Judith Kohler
The great American conservationist and leader who made that comment about our outdoors heritage would be outraged by elected officials who could look at our national public lands and decide they’re worthless.
Yet that’s the message the U.S. House has sent with a package of rules that includes one that will clear the way for handing over national public lands to states. The change would essentially codify a lie – that loss of our public lands wouldn’t cost the nation anything.
In purely economic terms, that’s an outrageous statement. Our public lands accommodate multiple uses, including grazing, logging, mining and recreation. National parks and monuments, wildlife refuges and forest lands generate billions of dollars year after year for local, state and federal coffers.
Public lands are essential to maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations that draw hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers from across the country and the world. Much of the water used by communities nationwide originates on public lands.
Instead of negating the worth of public lands, Congress should actually update how the land’s value is calculated. As Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva noted in a statement, the Congressional Budget Office “already significantly undervalues federal land conveyances,” focusing on revenue generated from things like mining, logging and grazing. The value of public lands is only growing.
Here are just a few of the numbers:
Those are the kinds of facts and figures that members of the House are willing to ignore in their headlong rush to start racking up ideological points.
There are a few facts, however, that, try as they might, members of Congress won’t be able to dodge. Whatever message voters sent in the November election, it wasn’t that they wanted to get rid of America’s public lands. Poll after poll has shown strong support for the great American outdoor heritage that leaders from both parties have worked to maintain for more than a century. A 2016 poll by Colorado College found that 72 percent of Western voters believe national public lands help their state economy. Our bedrock conservation laws were championed by politicians from both parties and signed by presidents of both parties. Democratic and Republican presidents alike have used the Antiquities Act to conserve some of our most important historic and archaeological treasures and irreplaceable landscapes.
A couple other salient facts: President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for Interior Secretary, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, have voiced support for keeping American public lands in public hands. Most of the hunters and anglers who voted for Trump weren’t voting to see their favorite hunting and fishing areas closed, transferred to the state and then likely auctioned off to the highest bidder when the state couldn’t afford to manage the lands.
This country is unique among industrialized countries. We’re the world’s economic leader and we still have huge, roaming herds of elk and deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, cutthroat trout whose genetics trace back to the last Ice Age – and seashores, rocky mountaintops, rolling grasslands and remote forests where everyone is welcome. It’s all ours. It’s our shared legacy. It’s fundamental to who we are as Americans.
And we’re not going to let anyone give it away.
The area proposed for a master leasing plan includes important winter range for mule deer. Image: iStock
DOLORES, Colo. -- After hearing from hunters, anglers, area residents and outdoor enthusiasts, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management has decided to pursue development of a master leasing plan for new oil and gas development on public lands in southwest Colorado.
The area is managed by BLM’s Tres Rios field office and includes 503,600 acres of public land that encompasses important wildlife habitat and is popular with outdoor recreationists. The master leasing plan, or MLP, has been proposed in Montezuma and La Plata counties and includes the gateway area to Mesa Verde National Park and archeological sites.
“The Tres Rios area has valuable wildlife habitat that includes important migratory routes, winter range as well as calving and lambing areas. It deserves the additional management protections for these areas that an MLP can provide,” said Bill Dvorak, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands organizer in Colorado.
The Durango Herald reported the Colorado state BLM office will submit a proposal for an MLP to the Washington, D.C., office. BLM officials said the decision was based on public support for the plan.
An MLP, among the Interior Department’s 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms, assesses the potential impacts of oil and gas drilling on natural resources across a landscape rather than lease by lease. The goal is to address potential conflicts upfront, consider cumulative impacts and provide safeguards for important fish and wildlife, water and other resources.
During a recent meeting of the BLM’s Southwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council, O’Neill said an MLP in the Tres Rios area would allow planners and the public to focus on critical winter range for deer and elk and wildlife migration corridors in the gateway area to Mesa Verde National Park. Phased leasing and development, limiting the density of well pads and consolidating infrastructure, such as roads and pipelines, are some of the safeguards that can be explored as part of the process, she added.
Local communities, sportsmen’s and outdoor groups and Colorado Parks and Wildlife voiced concern that a resource management plan approved in 2015 didn’t sufficiently address the potential effects of oil and gas development on wildlife and other uses of public lands. The BLM’s advisory council split on whether to recommend that the BLM prepare an MLP.
The BLM is using MLPs in other areas, including Colorado's South Park and Moab, Utah.
O’Neill said she’s confident the BLM and stakeholders can build on work already done to come up with balanced safeguards in southwest Colorado.
“One of the reasons I’m confident is that we’ve been working very closely with the BLM, Park County, water providers, cultural interests, oil and gas interests and others in South Park and it’s working, this process is working and it’s working well,” O'Neill said.
Sportsmen's and outdoor organizations have asked the presidential candidates of all parties to publicly support public lands.
WASHINGTON – More than 40 sportsmen’s and outdoor organizations from across the country have asked all the presidential candidates to publicly state their support for our national public lands – the places we hunt, fish and recreate and that sustain our fish and wildlife populations.
The 40 organizations, representing millions of hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers and other outdoors enthusiasts, have sent a letter earlier to Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein to ask them to publicly commit to “keeping public lands in public hands.”
The National Wildlife Federation and its state affiliates are also contacting other candidates, seeking their public endorsement of a statement of principles that opposes turning over public lands to individual states, selling them to private interests or undermining federal management of the lands that belong to all Americans.
While the majority of Americans cherish our national public lands, the sporting and outdoor organizations note that a small but strident group of state and federal lawmakers and their allies is trying to dismantle the network of public lands that is a cornerstone of our economy and national identity.
“Our national tapestry of public lands is the product of more than a century of leadership by both Republicans and Democrats,” the organizations wrote to the presidential hopefuls. “America’s hunters and anglers have a special interest in our public lands. Some of our most treasured big game animals depend on the secure habitat and migration corridors that are provided by public land. Many sportfish species depend on cool, clean waters that originate on public lands.”
The presidential campaigns have “an opportunity to explain to the American people how you will maintain our public lands for future generations,” the groups wrote.
The following groups signed the letters to the presidential candidates: Archery Trade Association · Arizona Wildlife Federation · Arkansas Wildlife Federation Association of Northwest Steelheaders · Backcountry Hunters and Anglers · Bear Trust International · Campfire Club of America · Colorado Wildlife Federation · Conservation Federation of Missouri · Conservation Force · Conservation Northwest · Dallas Safari Club Houston · Safari Club · Idaho Wildlife Federation · Iowa Wildlife Federation · Kansas Wildlife Federation · Louisiana Wildlife Federation · Masters of Foxhounds Association · Mississippi Wildlife Federation · National Trappers Association · National Wild Turkey Federation · National Wildlife Federation · Nevada Wildlife Federation · New Mexico Wildlife Federation · North American Grouse Partnership · North Carolina Wildlife Federation · North Dakota Wildlife Federation · Orion the Hunter’s Institute · Public Lands Foundation · Quality Deer Management Association · Shikar Safari Club International · Sportsmen’s Alliance · South Dakota Wildlife Federation · Tennessee Wildlife Federation · Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership · Tread Lightly! · Trout Unlimited · Whitetails Unlimited · Wildlife Management Institute · Wyoming Wildlife Federation · Montana Wildlife Federation · Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
Please note: the National Wildlife Federation and the co-signers of these letters do not participate in political campaigns, nor do we endorse, support or oppose any political party or any candidates for elected office.
NWF President and CEO Collin O'Mara calls on candidates to stand up for public lands. Image: Aaron Kindle
ESTES PARK Colo. -- At their annual meeting, the National Wildlife Federation and its 50 state and territorial affiliates are speaking out in unison on public lands: Keep them in public hands. Affiliates from across the country are stressing the importance of national public lands -- national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, coastlines, monuments and the open range land that maintains wildlife migration corridors.
During a June 16 news conference O'Mara said if candidates for public office "don’t stand with our public lands, we’re not going to support them. We encourage every hunter and angler out there and everyone else who loves the outdoors to do the same."
Here are his full comments:
So there you have it. Voices from across the country all saying the same thing. We need to keep public lands in public hands. A great Coloradan, (former Interior Secretary) Ken Salazar, once said America’s public lands are the birthright of all Americans and the envy of the world. This election is going to be about a lot of issues. You’re going to hear folks talking about all kinds of things they want to see happen or change in Washington. We want every candidate across this country to tell us where they stand on public lands. We want to make sure that every sportsman, every hunter, every angler, every gardner, every birder, every hiker, every canoer, everyone who loves the outdoors is taking this into consideration. There is no one that loves the outdoors that should support any candidate that is proposing to divest and sell our public lands. This should be an absolute for all of us. And so what you see behind us, (pointing to the mountains) and folks from every great state in this country are all coming together for this common message. We have Republicans back here, you got Democrats, you got Tea Partyers, you got crazy liberals. We all think, at the end of the day, our public lands have to stay in public hands. We’re going to be asking candidates across the country where they stand. And if they don’t stand with our public lands, we’re not going to support them. We encourage every hunter and angler out there and everyone else who loves the outdoors to do the same. We need to make sure this debate ends now, that we’re talking about better management of our public lands, how to have more access to our public lands, make sure we’re preparing our public lands for the next generation, not fighting a fight, that frankly, was won a hundred years ago when President Roosevelt first decided to set aside so much of our great public estate for all of our benefit. Let’s keep our public lands in public hands.
Federal legislation transferring millions of acres of national forests lands to states would threaten hunting, fishing and recreation on those lands. Image: Aaron Kindle
By Judith Kohler
WASHINGTON – The National Wildlife Federation has joined other conservation and sportsmen’s organizations in opposing two bills that would remove millions of acres of national forest land from the public domain, endangering fish and wildlife populations, water quality and the public’s ability to hunt, fish and recreate on these lands as it has for generations.
Both HR3560 and HR2316 would remove the public out of ownership and management decisions on large tracts of national forests, which are important sources of clean water and fish and wildlife habitat, said Mike Leahy, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior manager of public lands and sportsmen’s policy. Bedrock environmental laws that protect our air and water quality and wildlife and require public input into decisions about public lands would no longer apply to the land, he added. Multiple use of these national forest lands would end and be replaced by a near exclusive focus on timber.
“Sportsmen and women and outdoor enthusiasts of all backgrounds have helped defeat several land-grab attempts in statehouses across the county and we will fight any land-giveaway schemes by Congress,” Leahy said. “Our national public lands are vitally important to our economy, way of life and identity as Americans.
“Instead of expanding public involvement in public land management these bills would place decision-making in the hands of a few. They would also undermine ongoing, on-the-ground collaborative efforts among federal, state and community representatives.”
James Tyson, left, of the Colorado Wildlife Federation and Todd Leahy of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation spoke at a BLM hearing in Grand Junction, Colo.
CASPER, Wyo. -- The National Wildlife Federation and its state affiliates have joined other sportsmen's and conservation organizations in urging the Interior Department to modernize its federal coal program for the good of wildlife, conservation and the public.
Federal officials are reviewing the program to ensure a fair return to U.S. taxpayers, require that mined land is reclaimed before more public land is leased, improve reclamation standards and provide funding to restore wildlife habitat.
The Bureau of Land Management held public meetings across the country as part of the assessment of the federal coal program in what would be the first update of regulations in more than 30 years. The BLM is taking written comments until July 28.
The review of coal leasing and production on public lands comes amid concerns about a growing backlog of mined sites that haven’t been reclaimed; impacts on wildlife and their habitat; and the potential of taxpayers getting stuck with more than $3 billion in cleanup costs as more coal companies, even giant Peabody Energy,declare bankruptcy.
“As more coal companies declare bankruptcy and struggle to cover costs, American taxpayers face the risk of getting stuck with the bill to reclaim the growing backlog of disturbed land, much of it in the heart of important wildlife habitat. Now more than ever, it is time for coal leasing reform on our public lands: our fish and wildlife depend on it; our workers depend on it; and our way of life depends on it." ~ Brenda Lindlief Hall, NWF coal program coordinator, in a May 17 public meeting in Casper, Wyo.
A recent report co-authored by NWF details the looming economic and environmental disaster as self-insured coal companies, facing bankruptcy, could leave the American public on the hook for more than $3 billion worth of reclamation obligations. The report, "Undermined Promise II," found that out of a total of 450 square miles of mined land across Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, only 46 square miles have been reclaimed.
"We plan on handing down to our children and grandchildren healthy land and water ecosystems that produce abundant fish and wildlife for our families and citizens," said Bob Rees, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, NWF's affiliate in Oregon.
The BLM is taking comments during the public hearings as part of the work on a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or PEIS, which will lay the groundwork for updating the federal coal program.
The Western public lands that has mined are fragile and valuable and should be protected for future generations, Sarah Bates, deputy director of NWF's Northern Rockies, Prairies and Pacific office, said during a public meeting May 19 in Salt Lake City.
“The recent epidemic of coal company bankruptcies underscores the need for reform,” Bates said.
The current coal-mining polices and practices are causing problems for our public lands, water and wildlife said John Bradley, the eastern Montana field representative for the Montana Wildlife Federation.
"Every responsible outdoorsman knows that you're supposed to leave public land better than you found it. Hunters, anglers, and backpackers clean up after ourselves, and so should mining companies," Bradley said.
In a June 23 hearing in Grand Junction, Bill Dvorak, NWF's public lands organizer in Colorado and a fishing and rafting outfitter, said the combustion of coal mined on public lands accounts for more than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil fuel production on public lands. He said has seen firsthand the effects of climate change on his business.
"We have had two of the worst droughts in recorded history, 2002 and 20012, countered by years of extremely high water, torrential downpours causing mudslides and rock fall as well as earlier spring runoff and abnormal snowpacks," Dvorak said. "There is no such thing as a normal year anymore."
Bob Meulengracht, a Colorado native and lifelong sportsman, said it's crucial to make sure wildlife habitat disturbed by coal mining is properly reclaimed.
"It's not just a matter of putting back topsoil and throwing down any kind of seed to meet some arbitrary standard," he added. "We also need better enforcement and monitoring to make sure companies follow through on restoring habitat. The deer, pronghorn and other wildlife can't speak for themselves so hunters and anglers will."
or mail them to:
Coal Programmatic EIS Scoping
Bureau of Land Management
20 M St. SE, Room 2134 LM
Washington, D.C. 20003
Image: Bureau of Land Management, Nevada
DENVER -- Once again, Congress has greater sage-grouse conservation in its crosshairs.
In a repeat of last year, the U.S. House has passed the National Defense Authorization Act with unrelated environmental and wildlife provisions, including one that would block federal plans to conserve sage-grouse and its habitat -- the sagebrush steppe, which supports more than 350 species. The bill passed May 18 also contains language that would undermine the goal of keeping invasive species out the Great Lakes; block Endangered Species Act protections for the lesser prairie chicken; and transfer more half of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada to the Air Force even though the military hasn't requested the transfer.
“Weakening protections for our nation’s fish and wildlife in a piece of legislation intended to strengthen national defense is simply unacceptable,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “These extraneous provisions would block carefully-negotiated deals with business and other stakeholders to recover endangered species, would exacerbate problems with invasive species in the Great Lakes, and would transfer vast areas of land to the military—land that our military neither wants, nor needs. These measures should be stripped when the House and Senate go to conference so the President can sign a National Defense Authorization Act that strengthens our national security without undermining our natural resources.”
Here are more comments:
“After the sage-grouse language was dropped from last year’s defense bill, we hoped that certain House members would realize it makes no sense to inject debates over sage-grouse conservation into national security and military readiness legislation. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to go through this political dance again that, unlike the sage grouse strut, serves no useful purpose, especially when the United States military has stated again and again that protecting sage grouse in no way affects military readiness. We believe the Senate will once again exercise commonsense and keep the provision out. ~ Clare Bastable, NWF’s public lands program director
“Westerners have come together to save one of our signature wildlife species, the greater sage-grouse, and the sagebrush steppe. Efforts by private landowners and state and federal agencies show that collaboration is possible even when private property interests and endangered species issues are involved. Coloradans and other Westerners want to see the same kind of effort in Congress and an end to attempts to derail this historic conservation undertaking.” ~ Suzanne O’Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation executive director
“Montanans across the political spectrum have rolled up their sleeves and worked together to save the greater sage-grouse, its habitat, and working lands. It’s disappointing that members of the House of Representatives, instead of honoring the on-the-ground collaboration, have chosen to use the totally unrelated defense bill to politicize an important conservation effort.” ~ Dave Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation executive director
“Thanks to work in Wyoming and across the West, we were able to avoid the need to add the greater sage-grouse to the Endangered Species List. Federal and state agencies and private landowners have developed strategies to conserve the bird and all the other species that depend on the sagebrush steppe. Now is not the time to hit the brakes and jeopardize the viability of this iconic Western species and the landscapes that support mule deer, elk, pronghorn, hunting, recreation and ranching throughout the region. Congress needs to let the sage-grouse conservation plans work, not sacrifice them for politics.” ~ Joy Bannon, Wyoming Wildlife Federation field director
Read a blog on the bill: Stop these harmful environmental provisions
Colorado's public lands contribute billions to the state economy and offer a lifestyle envied around the world. Image: Aaron Kindle
By Aaron Kindle, National Wildlife Federation
The Colorado legislature recently passed Senate Bill 21, which marks the third Saturday in May as Public Lands Day here in Colorado. The bill, the first of its kind in the nation, will help Coloradans and others from around the nation and the world celebrate and give credit to the key factor that makes Colorado so great – public lands!
Whether you are a sportsman and general outdoors lover like me who spends dozens of days each year enjoying the amazing bounty of public lands Colorado has to offer or someone who simply sits in your back yard and admires the view of our famed vistas or someone who travels from the other side of the planet to enjoy our national parks and forests, Colorado’s public lands are simply spectacular and very much worth celebrating.
What a beautiful concept that we who hold these lands dear will simply give thanks for having these magnificent lands to behold, enjoy, and protect for now and forever so that many generations from now, others will be able to enjoy these same treasures.
These lands are the backdrop of our cities, the stage for our most prized adventures, and the settings for our best memories. They also give us clean air, clean water, and provide habitat for the amazing array of wild animals that call our canyons, peaks and valleys home.
We are truly blessed to have these amazing lands right out our doors. It does everybody good to stop and simply acknowledge and admire the gifts that life brings us. Public lands are no different. This year, on May 21st, I urge you to get out into your public lands, stop for a moment and be thankful for the fresh air, the wildlife, and then revel in the fact that these lands are ours, all of ours, to enjoy and cherish.
Public lands are uniquely American. We are one of the few countries in the world that has wild, open lands owned by the people, for the people. We cannot take this privilege for granted. We must nurture and protect these precious lands. The first step to fulfilling this obligation is acknowledging just how great we have it. The second step is to do something for your public lands. So remember to take some time, perhaps the third Saturday in May, to enjoy and protect your public lands.
Kent Ingram of Colorado Wildlife Federation enjoys a fruitful day on the river. Image: Aaron Kindle
By Randy Scholfield, Trout Unlimited
“It is wonderful that Colorado is acknowledging in bipartisan fashion how valuable and important America’s public lands are to its residents by being the first state to designate a Public Lands Day,” said Tyler Baskfield, Colorado Sportsmen Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The outpouring of support for this legislation demonstrates how much Colorado sportsmen and sportswomen, outdoor enthusiasts and businesses value America’s public lands. Those pushing a public lands transfer agenda are really just fringe groups whose interests serve very few.”
Baskfield noted that Trout Unlimited has worked with sportsmen and sportswomen for decades to enhance coldwater fisheries. Much of this work has taken place in cooperation with state and federal agencies and other conservation organizations on Colorado’s public lands.
“It’s about access,” added Baskfield. ““Colorado is fortunate enough to have millions of acres of public lands for hunters and anglers to explore—and sportsmen and women deeply appreciate the opportunity these lands provide for outdoor recreation. We look forward to celebrating Colorado Public Lands Day.”
Other sportsmen groups lauded the official recognition of the benefits of public lands.
“Just as our landscapes make Colorado a special place, the bipartisan bill creating an annual Public Lands Day demonstrates positive leadership at a time when politics is often too full of division,” said Suzanne O’Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation executive director. “Public lands, from the mountains to the sagebrush steppe and rolling plains, support our fish and wildlife, hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, and other outdoor recreation that generates more than $34 billion in economic activity each year.”
“Bipartisan support for Public Lands Day is a great indication of the passion Coloradans have for outdoor recreation on public lands—national treasures owned by all of us—as part of a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle,” said Nick Payne, Colorado field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “I’m sure thousands of hunters and anglers will join me in tipping a hat to our state lawmakers, with the hope that this will spark constructive conversations about responsible management of our public lands, which ensures continued access to world-class hunting and fishing experiences.”
“Sportsmen are pleased to see the state of Colorado continue to maintain our longstanding bipartisan tradition of supporting public lands, public access and habitat conservation,” said Matt Kenna, Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers board member from Durango. “It's now time to capitalize on this momentum – and work toward implementing real, on-the-ground public lands management solutions.”
Image: Bill Dvorak
The sagebrush steppe is habitat for the greater sage-grouse and more than 350 other species: Image: Nevada BLM
DENVER – The National Wildlife Federation and its Western state affiliates strongly oppose a provision in the defense bill that would do nothing to improve national security but would derail efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse and the sagebrush steppe.
In a letter Tuesday to the House Committee on Armed Services, the organizations detailed the problems with a section in the National Defense Authorization Act that would block plans to conserve sage grouse across the West. The bird’s population, once in the millions, has dropped to a total of less than a half-million in 11 Western states.
The provision is similar to a bill proposed earlier this year and language that was eventually deleted from last year’s defense bill.
The organizations noted the conservation plans approved by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service were developed with input from states and private landowners. Failure to carry out the plans “would only make the species’ situation more dire, while stripping away the policy measures in place to ensure its survival,” the groups wrote.
Last September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was able to avoid placing the bird on the Endangered Species List because of the safeguards in state and federal conservation plans. The provision in the defense bill would bar Fish and Wildlife from making a decision on the sage grouse’s status for 10 years and impose unprecedented limits on federal agencies’ ability to manage the bird and its habitat.
“Just like last year, some lawmakers are using concerns about national security as a pretext to prevent the implementation of federal plans to conserve sage grouse and the sagebrush steppe. And just like last year, the arguments for adding this language to the defense bill are groundless. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the bird’s fate,” says Clare Bastable, NWF’s public lands program director.
Bastable notes that the provision’s proponents contend the sage-grouse plans would jeopardize military training and operations in the bird’s habitat, but defense officials once again have said the plans pose no harm and that their existing natural resource management strategies don’t need to be revised.
Sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts point out that the sagebrush habitat supports more than 350 species as well as activities that generate more than $1 billion in economic benefits annually.
“In Wyoming, as a result of a range of interests coming together, from local and state officials to ranchers and members of industry, we were able to avoid listing the greater sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List,” says Joy Bannon, field director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and governor-appointed member of the Wyoming Sage Grouse Implementation Team. “This work is far from over. We simply cannot afford any roadblocks, especially with all the work, collaboration and momentum we have toward conserving this iconic bird and the sagebrush landscape, which is so important to our local economies and activities our communities rely on, like ranching and recreation. There is simply too much at risk to put the brakes on now for our conservation plans.”
“The work that laid the foundation for the federal and state sage-grouse conservation plans shows that when westerners roll up their sleeves and put aside politics, we can find ways to conserve our wildlife, working landscapes and lifestyles,” says Brian Brooks, Idaho Wildlife Federation executive director. “Now, we’re calling on Congress to do the same – focus on solutions, not political stances. Time is of the essence.”
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the decision not to place the greater sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List. Image: NWF/Jack Dempsey
The loss of public lands would mean the loss of our outdoor heritage. Image: Aaron Kindle
By Aaron Kindle, National Wildlife Federation
The pro public lands transfer movement is shaking its collective head in agony after yet another losing year in state legislatures across the country. On the other hand sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts, business owners, and lovers of public lands are taking a moment celebrate the defeat of these bills while also preparing to hold the legislators accountable for their actions.
Despite being soundly defeated in 2015, and receiving the clear message that citizens of all stripes adamantly oppose public lands being transferred to states, the ideological pro-transfer crowd again used their misguided allies in state legislatures to introduce more bad bills in 2016. They floated cookie-cutter legislation on several fronts that sought to either functionally or philosophically derail land management and grab more power for states despite the states lacking the will, expertise or budgets to do so.
Fortunately for all of us who love and rely on public lands as the backbone to our communities, economies, and traditions, very few of these bills even got a hearing, much less passed out of the respective legislatures. We showed up in droves every time legislators proposed a bad bill, every time proponents were given the floor to promote the folly of public land transfer, and we flooded the newspapers and airwaves at every decisive moment.
The result was a sound defeat, but the work is not done.
The charge remains strong for continued vigilance in protecting our public lands heritage. As sportsmen we know all too well what a loss of our national public lands would mean to our cherished traditions. Those prized quiet mornings in the fall would be few and far between, those serene moments when the flash of silver and gold erupts from the depths to meet a carefully placed fly would be much harder to come by, the look in our children’s eyes on their first hunt or with their first fish could be lost, and with these cherished moments would also go the collective soul of our outdoor culture.
This year, sportsmen and other conservationists rallied from Seattle (pictured) to Santa Fe in support of public lands. Image: Les Welsh
Targeting the land-grabbers
Luckily we can still halt this nonsense. We can’t stop it however, by sitting idly and believing that business as usual will cut it. In the coming months and years we need to redouble our efforts to protect and defend our public lands, and enlist others to do the same. We will work harder than ever to make decision makers realize the supreme importance of these lands to our way of life. We will hound state legislators, county commissions, and congressmen at every stop until they too understand completely that these lands are all of ours, and they are too precious for the dangerous gamble promoted by those who wish to profit by robbing us of our finest American traditions.
It’s now time for you to ask yourself, who is my legislator? How did he or she vote on this issue, and others important to sportsmen and women? How can I change their minds if they voted the wrong way or get them out of office if they don’t listen?
Then you need to get to work just as diligently as you would planning and executing a hunting trip, with all the passion and zeal those remarkable experiences incite. Use that same spirit to guard your public lands.
Just as the scout is critical to ultimate success, defeating the transfer ideologues is critical to ensuring there will be public, open lands when you embark on your hunts. Neglecting to complete the necessary work in either case will result in outcomes far from what you desire. But, the additional investment will pay off in spades, and you will never have to have a sorrowful conversation with your child about how you let their public lands slip away.
Defending our public lands requires vigilance. Image: Aaron Kindle
Hunters and anglers have long supported wildlife management and conservation through the fees and taxes they pay. Image: Gene Sentz
By Dave Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation
It's hard for most of us to imagine a time when hunting and fishing were completely unregulated. Setting up wildlife management agencies to implement science-based management and habitat protection was really the first step in the wildlife conservation movement at the start of the 20th century.
With strong support from hunters and anglers, wildlife management was set up to be funded by hunting and fishing licenses. This “user-pays” model, in which hunters and anglers paid license fees to support conservation of the resources they loved, was a truly remarkable innovation in paying for government services – and the last century has shown that it is also a wild success.
Today, we enjoy an abundance of fish and wildlife that was unimaginable a century ago. At the same time, the challenges facing wildlife and habitat are getting tougher. Wildlife conservation is getting more and more expensive, but funding continues to depend only on hunters and anglers buying annual licenses.
Everyone who benefits from our fish and wildlife should help shoulder the burden. That means we need to broaden how we pay for wildlife management beyond just hunting and fishing licenses.
NWF CEO and President Collin O'Mara praises the Wyoming Wildlife Federation's work on public lands. Photo:Judith Kohler/NWF
By Judith Kohler, NWF
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Some of the country's most important conversations about wildlife and public lands are taking place in Wyoming and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation is the right organization to help provide a pragmatic approach to "bring people together to get big things done again," National Wildlife Federation CEO and President Collin O'Mara said.
O'Mara told the crowd of more than 200 at the Wyoming Wildlife Federation's annual banquet that between the extremes on wildlife and conservation issues is "the commonsense big middle."
"What this country needs more than anything else right now is folks and organizations that can bring people together to get big things done again," O'Mara said at the March 5 dinner. "You guys have the right pragmatic idea for how we can bring people together."
O'Mara lauded WWF's work on maintaining wildlife corridors and defending public lands against attempts to sell or transfer them to the state.
"That's why I'm so proud of the work over the last two years of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation standing up for our public lands," he said.
He pointed to WWF's initiative aimed at ensuring that sportsmen and women are represented during the development of management plans for our public lands that will help make sure that such efforts result in improved habitat for wildlife and more access for hunters and anglers.
"The heritage of the West is wildlife and if we can raise up a conservation army in every corner of the country to make sure we protect these resources for future generations, we’ll leave a legacy we can be incredibly proud of," O'Mara said.
During the banquet, Timothy D. Stephens was honored as WWF's Conservationist of the Year. Chamois Andersen, WWF's executive director, said Stephens has been the voice of wildlife for the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming's Big Horn Basin.
Chamois Andersen, WWF executive director, announces that Timothy D. Stephens is the organization's Conservationist of the Year. Photo: Judith Kohler/NWF
Stephens has spearheaded wildlife habitat improvements along the Absaroka Front and the basin. He has been a member of the Big Horn Basin Sage Grouse Local Working Group and his BLM field office's Threatened and Endangered Species Coordinator.
"We recognize Tim Stephens for his exceptional achievements toward Wyoming’s wildlife, and for championing cooperative working relationships with a variety of interests, including private landowners, state and federal land managers and NGOs,” Andersen said.
WWF board and staff, from left: Lew Carpenter, NWF regional representative; Dot Newton; Reg Rothwell, NWF affiliate representative; Bill Alldredge; Siva Sundaresen; Dave Moody, treasurer; Phoebe Stoner, secretary; Blake Balzan; Bri Jones; Richard Oblak;Janet Marschner, president; Chuck Butterfield; Chamois Andersen, executive Director; Joy Bannon, field director.
The Interior Department has canceled a long-fought oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park. Image:Montana Wildlife Federation
MISSOULA, MONT. -- More than three decades of work to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area just south of Glacier National Park have paid off. The Interior Department Thursday announced the cancelation of an oil and gas lease in a remote part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest that is home to grizzlies, wolves, lynx, wolverines, elk and deer and is sacred to the Blackfeet tribes
Interior officials said the Bureau of Land Management concluded the lease, approved in 1982, was issued in violation of the National Environmental Policy and National Historical Preservation acts. The National Wildlife Federation, Montana Wildlife Federation and the Blackfeet tribe were among those who sued to repeal leases and prevent drilling in Badger-Two Medicine. The area is at the intersection of the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
"This is a signal victory for wildlife conservation, wildland protection and tribal religious interests," said Tom France, executive director of the NWF Northern Rockies Regional Center.
The BLM's decision cancels a lease held by Solenex LLC, which will receive a refund of $31,235. In the 1990s, the U.S. Forest Service decided not to authorize any new leases in a 356,000-acre area along the Rocky Mountain Front, including Badger-Two Medicine. Based on the area's natural and cultural values, Congress withdrew the public lands from oil and gas leasing in 2006. Several leaseholders received tax incentives to relinquish their leases, but Solenex sued over the delays in approval of its drilling permit.
"The Badger-Two Medicine is an exquisite piece of public land just to the south of Glacier National Park and west of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It is a land of grizzly bears and wolves, elk and mule deer and incredible vistas of the Crown of the Continent and the prairies sweeping away to the east. It a sacred land to the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet Nation," France said. "The wolves will be pleased and will howl somewhere tonight in the Two Medicine basin."
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana has called for the cancelation of the remaining leases in the area. In a statement, he praised the BLM's decision on the Solenex lease.
"For generations Blackfeet families and outdoorsmen have enjoyed this treasured place and today’s decision will help ensure that this area remains pristine for years to come," Tester said. "There are special places in this world where we just shouldn’t drill, and the Badger-Two Medicine is one of them.”
Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the unique value of the Badger-Two Medicine is reflected in the diverse array of people who have worked together for so many years to save it.
"Tribal citizens, wilderness advocates, hunters, anglers, ranchers, and local businesses were all united in seeking to preserve this area for future generations. The Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance in particular deserves our thanks for bringing so many people together to fight for this special place," Chadwick said.