NWF: Public Wants Interior to Let Sage-Grouse Plans Work

Sportsmen, women and other Westerners want to stay on track with sage-grouse conservation efforts. Image:Artemis

By Judith Kohler

DENVER – As the comment period closes today on the Interior Department’s move to overhaul the sage-grouse conservation plans, Westerners of all stripes are saying the plans should stay in place.

Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife Federation’s associate vice president for public lands, said:

“At recent public meetings and in more than 160,000 comments to federal officials, people have said the sage-grouse plans put together by Westerners from across the political spectrum should be given a chance to work. The plans by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service were developed over years with a lot of input from communities, the states, the oil and gas industry and private landowners.

"The Interior Department needs to respect this unprecedented collaborative effort and get on with saving the sage-grouse and the sagebrush lands that mule deer, pronghorns and more than 350 species need to survive.”


Friday, December 1, 2017

Colorado Sportsmen Speak Out For Sage-Grouse Plans

Colorado sportsmen and women want to see sage-grouse conservation plans proceed. Image: NWF

CRAIG, Colo.  – Colorado sportsmen and women and wildlife advocates are urging members of the public to speak out in support of plans designed to conserve greater sage-grouse and sagebrush lands. The Bureau of Land Management scheduled an open house Nov. 8 in Craig, the only public forum planned in Colorado on proposed changes to the sage-grouse plans.

The sagebrush steppe, found in 11 Western states, supports elk, mule deer, pronghorns and many other species as well as sage-grouse, Colorado Wildlife Federation Executive Director Suzanne O’Neill notes.

“Our public lands and wildlife are fundamental to Colorado's lifestyle. The efforts to save the greater sage-grouse will sustain not only the bird but a lot of other wildlife Coloradans care about,” O’Neill says.

“The sage-grouse plans were developed by Westerners from across the political spectrum and are supported by Gov. Hickenlooper. They shouldn’t be overhauled, as the Interior Department is proposing, before they’re even given a chance to work,” she adds.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, both involved in the planning process, wrote a letter in May to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to express concern about altering the plans. They wrote they were concerned that shifting the focus from habitat conservation and restoration to setting population objectives, as Zinke has suggested “is not the right decision” and that wholesale changes to the plans likely aren’t needed.

“Sportsmen and women, private landowners, ranchers and industry representatives joined elected officials and federal agencies to come up with state and federal plans so sage-grouse wouldn’t need to be listed, so we could head off precipitous declines for mule deer and big game winter range would be protected,” says Aaron Kindle, senior manager of Western sporting campaigns for the National Wildlife Federation.

“Throwing open the plans at this point defies logic and common sense. It’s also a slap in the face to all the Westerners who contributed to this effort. It’s essentially saying, ‘We don’t care what you think and we don’t value your time’. That’s not good public policy and it discourages working toward collaborative solutions,” Kindle says.

The BLM open house in Craig is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Clarion Inn, 300 S. Highway 13. Other open houses on amending the sage-grouse plans are being held in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The public comment period on amending the sage-grouse plans closes Nov. 27. Comments can be submitted to For more information, go to

Visit the National Wildlife Federation Media Center at


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Sportsmen Release Report on Responsible Energy Development

A new report by sportsmen promotes upfront planning to better safeguard wildlife habitat. Image: iStock

DENVER -- Longtime Colorado sportsmen and women remember the hunting opportunities of the so-called “mule-deer factory” in the northwest part of the state. The area was renowned for producing so many deer that it seemed automatic. The area’s White River herd numbered more than 100,000 in the early 1980s.

However, the herd’s current size is estimated at 30,550, less than half the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s objective of 67,500. Although the decline is likely due to an accumulation of factors, one issue looms large – the existence of more than 2,700 wells in the Piceance Basin and the accompanying increases in new roads, pipelines and traffic. A plan by the Bureau of Land Management White River Field Office projects another 15,000 wells could be drilled in the next 20 years.

Now that development has taken hold, efforts to strike a balance and recover important wildlife habitat is a lot more difficult. The time to strike a balance and plan for energy development is before a network of roads and drill pads carve up the landscape and degrade important habitat.

Lessons Learned

A new report released by the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition and endorsed by several fishing and hunting businesses urges smart-from-the-start planning, public engagement and consideration of the long-term impacts on fishing and hunting opportunities. The report, “Lessons Learned: A Blueprint for Securing our Energy Future While Preserving America’s Sporting Heritage,” features examples of where oil and gas production was well-planned, where it wasn’t and where the potential remains to do things right.

As the Trump administration explores ways to streamline and speed up approval of leases and drilling on public lands, it’s more important than ever to promote responsible energy development and ensue that high-quality opportunities to hunt and fish on public lands are sustained long into the future.

Here is a look at a landscape where we’re playing catch-up to conserve important wildlife habitat.

“This place was once a mule-deer factory: A look at Colorado’s Piceance Basin.”

The Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado is a near picture-perfect Western landscape: rugged, rocky cliffs, sweeping sage-brush expanses, forested mountainsides and the Colorado River flowing through the bottom lands. 

Along with the iconic setting come herds of mule deer and elk, greater sage-grouse strutting on their breeding grounds and high-elevation streams with genetically pure cutthroat trout.  The home of the White River deer herd in a portion of the Piceance has been called Colorado’s “mule-deer factory” because for many years the herd was one of the country’s largest. 

However, it’s not clear if the title still fits. State wildlife officials estimated the herd’s size at more than 100,000 deer in the early 1980s. But recent aerial surveys and computer modeling put the herd’s population at an estimated 30,550, less than half of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s objective of 67,500.  

Energy development, the growing human population, drought and predators have all been blamed for the declines. But energy development’s footprint is big in the Piceance Basin – and likely will grow even bigger. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the area’s Mancos Shale Formation holds 66.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to heat 15 million homes for a year.  

Big footprint

The basin also holds a massive oil-shale reserve. Companies have been trying for decades to find ways to economically mine oil shale, or kerogen, that the Government Accountability Office has said could be the world’s largest crude oil resource.     

A drilling boom that began in the Piceance in the early 2000s went bust when natural gas prices plummeted due to over-supplies and the Great Recession took hold. When the dust settled, there were thousands of wells, accompanying pipelines and new roads carved into mesas and hillsides.  

There are 2,703 wells in the area managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office, which oversees much of the Piceance. Of those, 1,796 are on BLM lands. The BLM’s updated plan for the area projects another 15,000 new wells could be drilled during the next 20 years. About 61 percent of the federal minerals available for leasing in the White River area has already been leased. 

Sportsmen and women want to see strong safeguards for public lands and comprehensive planning from the start, before leases are approved, to ensure responsible energy development. 

“In the case of the Piceance Basin, we’re left trying to play catch-up when it comes to conserving one of the region’s most vital wildlife areas,” says Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federations public lands policy director. “It’s always tough to try to strengthen conservation measures after the fact and so much of the land in the basin has already been leased.” 

Some of the steps the BLM can take for smart-from-the-start development are: 

  • Upfront assessment of the natural resources 
  • Steps to avoid or minimize development’s impact on the fish, wildlife and water resources 
  • A comprehensive approach to planning rather than a piecemeal, lease-by-lease tack 
  • Early and regular involvement of diverse interests, including hunters, anglers, community members and recreationists 

Striking the right balance on uses of our public lands is important for the overall economy. A 2014 state study found that outdoor recreation generated $9.3 billion in economic benefits annually in northwest Colorado and supported 91,822 jobs.  

Natural gas wells in the Piceance Basin. Image: Judith Kohler

Increased drilling in the Piceance will heighten concerns about wildlife and the potential effects on hunting and fishing. An analysis by the National Wildlife Federation found a dramatic decrease in the number of hunting licenses offered for bucks during the rifle seasons for the White River herd. The total to be offered in 2017 is 2,895 licenses, compared with 11,760 licenses offered in 2005. 

Lifelong sportsman Kent Ingram, president of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, has noticed the changes. After hunting in the Piceance for decades, he now goes other places.  

"I don't want to hunt places where the population numbers are low. I don't want to add to an already stressed situation,” Ingram says. “Further, the deer have been moving away from the fragmented areas where their habitat has been disturbed." 


Learn more about the balance between energy development, habitat, and sportsmen’s access. Read about other lessons learned in Wyoming's Greater Little Mountain area and New Mexico's Vermejo Park Ranch. Or download the full report.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

NWF, Affiliates: Sage-Grouse Order Could Jeopardize Conservation Plans

The sagebrush steppe supports greater sage-grouse and 350 other species. Image: FWS-Mountain Prairie Region

By Judith Kohler

WASHINGTON  – The order by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review and perhaps significantly alter the greater sage-grouse conservation plans runs the risk of derailing a years-long effort to save the bird and a landscape that supports 350 other species, the National Wildlife Federation said.

The 60-day review by an Interior Department team could upend plans that are based on science, conditions in individual Western states, and the overall threats to sage grouse, including the loss and degradation of its habitat, while allowing for responsible energy development.

Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s president and CEO, released the following statement:

“The work to save the greater sage-grouse represents one of the most collaborative and significant conservation efforts in American history. The conservation plans written by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, developed with input from states, local governments, landowners, conservationists, and others, are ready to go and should be carried out, not put on hold while sage-grouse and their habitat face ongoing threats. These plans, which specified on-the-ground work in 10 Western states, were the reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2015 that the greater sage-grouse did not require listing under the Endangered Species Act," said Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s president and CEO.

“Today's Secretarial Order to review and perhaps alter the collaborative conservation plans could unnecessarily derail this multi-state effort and jeopardize not only an iconic species, but the sagebrush steppe that supports more than 350 wildlife species, including mule deer and pronghorn, provides countless opportunities for hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts, and supports more than $1 billion in annual economic benefits for local communities. We agree with Governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Matt Mead of Wyoming, who made it clear in a recent letter to Secretary Zinke that they don’t think wholesale changes to the plans are needed and that focusing on the number of birds rather than the health of the habitat isn’t the way to go. Making drastic changes is simply not necessary when the existing plans do not affect energy development on more than 80 percent of the potential habitat area and less than 50 percent of existing energy leases on public lands are currently in production.  We strongly encourage the collaborative habitat restoration efforts to continue, so we can save the bird and save the herd.” 

From NWF's state affiliates:

“The secretarial order on sage-grouse could create more delay and impede what we in Colorado and others across the West want – growing, healthy sage-grouse populations and the conservation of its habitat. More delay and debate will undermine the restoration of a bird and a landscape that’s crucial to a wide diversity of wildlife. Any review or changes to the plan should be made with one goal in mind – avoiding further declines of the sage-grouse population to the point where drastic measures will be required to save it.” ~ Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation

“The state of Wyoming has been at the forefront of sage-grouse conservation, having developed a strategy that was a model for other Western states. We’ve been all in and don’t want all the work, time and collaboration to get sidetracked by the unnecessary redoing of the conservation plans, the very plans that led to the decision not to list greater sage-grouse. We don’t want to jeopardize all our work and the good will that has grown out of face-to-face, on-the-ground efforts to save the bird and sagebrush lands.” ~ Joy Bannon, Wyoming Wildlife Federation field director and member of the Wyoming Sage Grouse Implementation Team

“Saving the greater sage-grouse and its habitat matters because we Westerners care about our wildlife and public lands. The conservation plans are the result of a lot of give and take and collaboration and should be given a chance to work. We don’t want the secretarial order to throw things off track and end up risking sage-grouse, a habitat that supports mule deer, pronghorn and other wildlife as well as the public lands where we hunt, fish and recreate.” ~ Robert Gaudet, Nevada Wildlife Federation board president

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hunting, Fishing Businesses Unite in Support of National Monuments

Colorado's Browns Canyon was designated as a national monument in 2015 after years of effort by local communities and sportsmen. Image: Friends of Browns Canyon

Hunting, Fishing Businesses Unite in Support of National Monuments

WASHINGTON – More than 100 hunting and fishing business owners and sporting organizations sent a letter May 9 to Congress to show their support for national monuments and the responsible use of the Antiquities Act.

“As someone who has helped develop the outdoor industry in Colorado and watched it grow into an economic powerhouse, I am concerned by current efforts both to curtail national monuments and weaken the Antiquities Act itself,” said Jim Bartschi, president of Scott Fly Rods in Montrose, Colorado.

“Public lands such as the new Browns Canyon National Monument preserve incredible outdoor opportunities to hunt, fish, hike, bike, camp and float – and they’re strongly supported by local communities, who understand that these lands offer one of the best new, sustainable ways to grow their local economies," Bartschi added. “Since Theodore Roosevelt established the Antiquities Act in 1906, presidents of both parties have wisely used it to protect our nation’s most treasured hunting and fishing habitats. Let’s make sure we celebrate these special places and work together to retain their status as national monuments.”

The letter is part of a larger effort to demonstrate the important role national monuments and the Antiquities Act play not only to small businesses and rural economies but also to hunters and anglers all across the country. Business owners met with decision makers in Washington to emphasize the value of public lands and national monuments to the outdoor industry.

“The outdoor industry accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs, making it one of the largest economic sectors in the country,” said Jen Ripple, editor in chief of DUN Magazine and a Tennessee resident. “Much of this economic output depends on public lands. Tools for conservation like the Antiquities Act will help ensure that America’s public lands remain not only a great place to hunt and fish but also an important pillar of the hunting and fishing industry.”

The business owners’ letter details support for safeguarding national monuments and the Antiquities Act, as well as criteria to ensure that national monuments are representative of collaborative, ground-up solutions for the management of public lands.

“Though some national monuments can be controversial, the Antiquities Act is an effective and essential tool for conservation,” said Ryan Hughes, a Nevada-based outdoor writer and volunteer for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “In places like Berryessa Snow Mountain in California and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, we’ve seen Congress unable or unwilling to pass legislative proposals created with the help of local stakeholders. The Antiquities Act aided in allowing these collaborative efforts to happen.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sportsmen: BLM Right on Track with Plan for CO's South Park

One of the region's premier fish and wildlife areas is just a little more than hour's drive from the Denver area. Image: Ecoflight

​By Judith Kohler

DENVER (March 9, 2017) – Colorado sportsmen say the release of preliminary management proposals for public lands in South Park and surrounding areas shows that the Bureau of Land Management intends to keep the public informed and involved in decisions affecting one of the region’s premier hunting, fishing and recreation spots.

The BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office on Wednesday released preliminary management scenarios that include a proposed master leasing plan for oil and gas development in South Park. A master leasing plan, or MLP, is a planning tool available to BLM intended to better balance uses of public lands. Park County and local elected officials as well as landowners and sportsmen and women asked the BLM to write an MLP for South Park because of its important fish, wildlife and water resources.

As the BLM revises its resource management plan for the area, the agency has used such updated procedures as seeking public input more frequently and releasing proposals earlier to better address potential conflicts and find resolutions. The result, say sportsmen’s organizations, has been a more transparent and inclusive process.

People from across the country travel to South Park, a little more than an hour’s drive from the Denver area, to fish in the Gold Medal waters of the South Platte Basin. Hunting and fishing generate $17 million in revenue for Park County every year. South Park, the headwaters of the South Platte River, is also a major source of drinking water for more than 2 million people in Denver, Aurora and along Colorado’s Front Range.

"The Bureau of Land Management is on the right track in South Park. Park County, along with numerous other cooperating agencies, have worked effectively with BLM on the draft alternatives for the plan and we, too, will continue working with the county, diverse stakeholders and BLM to gain a balanced future for these public lands. South Park is an iconic, one-of-a-kind natural gem right in the backyard of the Denver metro area and is home to herds of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn and features world-class gold medal trout streams." ~ Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation

“Trout Unlimited and other sportsmen groups are committed to preserving South Park and its world-class fish and wildlife resources—and that starts with smart land use planning. This BLM draft is a good first step to creating a locally driven land use plan for South Park that recognizes the imperative of balancing energy development with protection of incredible habitat and angling and hunting opportunities. We’re encouraged that BLM is listening to sportsmen, ranchers, county officials and other stakeholders and incorporating their ideas into a master plan for South Park. The process is working.”  ~ Tyler Baskfield, Colorado sportsmen’s coordinator for Trout Unlimited

“The South Platte serves as the home waters for many Front Range anglers and outdoor recreation businesses that make Colorado a special place to live or visit, and ensuring that South Park’s public lands are managed for balanced use is a positive step toward stability for our economy. Sportsmen and women appreciate their role in public land management and take the opportunity to weigh in on land-use decisions very seriously, especially where our hunting and fishing access is at stake, so we welcome a continued open and collaborative process that will benefit fish and wildlife and our outdoor recreation economy for years to come.” ~ Nick Payne, Colorado field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sportsmen: Idaho Bill Reveals Truth of Public-Lands Attacks

Idaho sportsmen are working to defeat a bill that would direct state agencies to decide which public lands to get rid of. Image: IWF

BOISE, Idaho  – Two sportsmen’s groups and a landowner are taking aim at a bill that not only would force Idaho state agencies to decide which public lands to get rid of but would prevent willing landowners from selling property to public agencies.

The Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and landowner Erik Cetovick said Monday that Senate Bill 1065 in the Idaho Legislature could end up locking the public out of lands they have hunted and fished for generations. The bill also tips lawmakers’ hand in showing that the goal of taking over public lands is to sell them to private parties, dismantling Idahoans’ public-lands heritage, they added.

"For years now, our politicians have said that the transfer of public lands to the state is about better management. Well, now we have them flat out advising all state agencies to prioritize their land parcels for sale to private ownership any lands that might not be fulfilling a 'public purpose,’” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. “Who decides public purpose?  The same legislators who are advocating for a public lands takeover by the state to sell to the highest bidder?"

This bill showed their hand. No longer can they bluff the public that the public lands takeover isn't about selling your hunting, fishing, and camping grounds now that they have specifically advised Idaho agencies to get ready to do just that," Brooks added.

The legislation would also give county commissioners say over whether private landowners could sell their property to the local, state or federal government, based on the objective of no net loss of private property in the state.

"There are some other glaring problems with the bill," said Michael Gibson, Idaho Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited.  "Aside from the fact that the bill violates the Idaho constitution, it would prevent a landowner from selling his land to a government body, like a school district or Idaho Fish and Game, and put the selling authority in the hands of elected county commissioners.  If a landowner wants to improve fishing access by selling an easement, he or she should have that right."

Eric Cetovick, whose family owns property in forested rural Idaho, worries about the future of his land if Senate Bill 1065 bill becomes law.

"If I want to keep my property a working landscape, open to the public, and quality habitat, I could sell to any number of local, state, or federal agencies and preserve the land but still retain my title of it.  With this bill, that land could be sold in the future,” Cetovick said. “This could destroy the access all sportsmen in Idaho enjoy. Without groups like the Idaho Wildlife Federation and TU, who will uphold sportsmen values?"


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sportsmen Cheer Shelving of Public Lands Bill, Vow Continued Vigilance

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Americans won't support public-lands giveaway

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:

  • Gateway communities across the country benefit economically from being near national park lands. In 2015, the National Park System logged 307.2 million recreation visits, resulting in $16.9 billion in spending in gateway regions – areas within 60 miles of a park.
  • In fiscal 2015, the activities and services of the Interior Department, which oversees most of our public lands, generated $300 billion of economic output, created about $170 billion in value-added contributions and supported an estimated 1.8 million jobs.
  • Outdoor recreation, much of which occurs on public lands, each year generates $646 billion in consumer spending and is responsible for 6.1 million direct jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Money spent on outdoor recreation far outpaces that of the following industries: pharmaceuticals; motor vehicles and parts; gasoline and other fuels; household utilities.

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.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Win for Wildlife: Master leasing plan proposed in southwest Colorado

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.

Providing safeguards

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.



Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sportsmen to presidential hopefuls: Speak up for public lands

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.

Read more about the organizations' statements.

Pledge support for public lands.


Monday, September 12, 2016

NWF, affiliates to candidates: Tell us where you stand on public lands

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.

Here is the video of O'Mara's remarks

Here is a press release from the NWF affiliates' news June 16 conference on public lands

Learn more about our national public lands and the fight to defend them


Friday, June 17, 2016

NWF opposes bills targeting national forest lands

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.”


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Interior launches needed review of federal coal program


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."


You can click here to make comments:

or mail them to:
Coal Programmatic EIS Scoping 
Bureau of Land Management 
20 M St. SE, Room 2134 LM 
Washington, D.C. 20003 


Read a report on the impacts of coal mining and other energy development on wildlife in Wyoming and Montana


Monday, May 30, 2016

NWF, affiliates: Attacks on sage-grouse conservation don't belong in defense bill

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


Sunday, May 22, 2016