LEGISLATION INTRODUCED TO FUND WILDLIFE RECOVERY

This is a huge news for wildlife conservation and recovery. And not just  for the elk, deer, ducks and other” game” darlings that hunters like myself too-often prioritize for conservation.

If passed, the bi-partisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2016 (HR 5650) would provide a dedicated funding source to help rare and imperiled wildlife before they are listed as endangered by supporting recovery plans and conservation actions at the state level.

The bill can even help fund wildlife reintroduction programs and other proactive efforts. It will also provide a significant investment in restoring and securing habitat for threatened and endangered species, as well as for defending against invasive species and diseases that harm wildlife. Both imperiled wildlife and business benefit through proactive conservation efforts that work to avoid the need for ESA listings. It’s a win-win.

Read more in the piece below that I compiled for Conservation Northwest’s blog:

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If passed, this new funding source will help rare wildlife before they are endangered by supporting state recovery and conservation plans. It can even help fund reintroduction programs like our work to restore fishers to Washington. Photo: Paul Bannick/Conservation Northwest

Momentous legislation introduced to fund wildlife recovery

The bi-partisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2016 (HR 5650) would provide a dedicated funding source for rare and at-risk wildlife

On July 7, Congressman Don Young (R-AK) and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced a historic bill to change the way America funds the conservation and recovery of rare and at-risk wildlife.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2016 (HR 5650), is a bi-partisan effort calling for $1.3 billion annually in existing revenue from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters to be dedicated to the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program to conserve at-risk fish and wildlife and support implementation of State Wildlife Action Plans in every state, territory and the District of Columbia.

This is a momentous proposal that is needed now more than ever and we’re proud to support it. Want to add your voice in support? Contact your lawmakers using this form from our partners at the National Wildlife Federation.

As representatives from Conservation Northwest, in March 2016 we joined the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the National Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, and other partners in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the release of a report from the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources, a group comprised of national business and conservation leaders, to recommend a new mechanism to sustainably fund fish and wildlife conservation. We joined citizens from across the country to meet with members of our state’s congressional delegations to review the Blue Ribbon report. HR 5650 is the result of that effort.

If passed, this new funding source will help rare wildlife like Canada lynx even before they are listed as endangered by supporting recovery plans and conservation actions at the state level.It can even help fund wildlife reintroduction programs like our ongoing efforts to return fishers to Washington. It will also provide a significant investment in restoring and securing habitat for threatened and endangered species, as well as for defending against invasive species and diseases that harm wildlife.

Why it’s needed

During the last 100 years, our nation and its fish and wildlife conservationists have achieved some tremendous successes. Animals like Rocky Mountain elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys and waterfowl whose populations were driven to perilous levels by unregulated commercial (market) hunting and habitat loss in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are now relatively abundant and widely recovered.

The dedicated funding for this conservation and recovery work, and for the state fish and wildlife agencies tasked with managing non-Endangered Species Act-listed species, comes mostly through fees on hunting and fishing licenses and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. These taxes, including Pittman-Robertson funds (Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, 1937) for mammals and birds and Dingell-Johnson (Sport Fish Restoration Act, 1950) funds for fish, are taxes that hunting, angling and conservation groups eagerly championed as contributions to support and restore America’s natural heritage. Through these funds and many other efforts, hunters and anglers have been some of our nation’s most active and impactful conservationists throughout the last century. And their efforts show in the successful recovery of some of our nation’s most iconic wildlife.

Unfortunately, these successes have not included many species that are not widely hunted or fished, such as wolverines and American oystercatchers, as well as lesser-known creatures including tiger salamanders, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and snail darter fish. Without dedicated funding for their conservation and recovery, and with habitat loss, increasing temperatures and other threats on the rise, many such species are increasingly at-risk. They’re falling through the cracks of our North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

In many cases, no action for these species is taken until they are officially listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, a bill originally intended to be an “emergency room” measure. Once a species reaches that point it is much harder and more expensive to recover and there are regulatory hurdles that make land management, recreation and business within its habitat more challenging, and more controversial. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which by law lead the recovery and management of endangered species, has had budding success in recent years making progress towards recovering some iconic species such as wolves and grizzly bears, but these agencies alone aren’t capable of bringing back the full suite of our imperiled wildlife from the brink. Nor is this approach proactive enough to reverse the slide of species already heading towards an endangered listing, like wolverines, before such a listing is needed.

Various other funding options for dedicated “non-game species” conservation revenue, such as Pittman-Robertson-style taxes on birdwatching and other recreation equipment sales and voluntary “Wildlife Watching Stamps” have been proposed by various states in recent years, but none have been adopted widely enough to contribute significant funding to State Wildlife Action Plans for threatened species. New funding mechanisms and proactive conservation, like the measures in HR 5650, are what’s needed. It’s time for a paradigm shift in how fish and wildlife recovery is funded in America, and that’s exactly what this new bi-partisan legislation proposes.

What the legislation does

How big of a deal is this? Colin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation (of which we are an affiliate organization), calls HR 5650 “a once in a generation opportunity to save thousands of at-risk wildlife species.” Similar to the much-lauded Land and Water Conservation Fund, this proposed legislation uses fees on revenues from natural resource development on public lands and waters to fund wildlife conservation and recovery through the currently unfunded Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Account. Through the Account, the funds would be directed to state wildlife agencies for the implementation of their State Wildlife Action Plans.

The following information from the NWF further clarifies how this would work: In 2000, Congress created the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered in every state. As part of that, every state was required to develop a State Wildlife Action Plan that assessed the health of wildlife within the state and outlined the conservation actions necessary to sustain them. Collectively, these State Wildlife Action Plans form a nationwide strategy to prevent wildlife from becoming listed under the Endangered Species Act. While the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program has been appropriated $50-100 million dollars each year, the program is funded at only a fraction of what states need to conserve these species. A survey of all the State Wildlife Action Plans revealed that $1.3 billion annually is what it would cost to implement 75 percent of every state’s plan. Based on average funding from annual appropriations, current funding is only 4.65 percent of what is necessary to conserve our nation’s species of greatest conservation need. As a result, states are forced to focus only on just a very few species, with many more at-risk and heading towards becoming endangered.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would help avert this crisis by dedicating $1.3 billion annually to the unfunded Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Account – $650 million from existing revenues from energy development on the outer continental shelf and $650 million from existing revenues from mineral development on federal lands. These funds currently go into the U.S. Treasury. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is also funded from offshore oil and gas receipts and would remain as a separate account

By allocating funds to the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration subaccount within the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Fund, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act takes advantage of an existing funding mechanism that has been shown to work for wildlife restoration for over 75 years. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration account channels revenues paid by sportsmen when they purchase hunting gear back to state fish and wildlife agencies. These agencies have a proven track record of using those funds wisely and effectively, having restored native game populations around the country. The Wildlife Conservation and Restoration program provides funding to each state, territory, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia based on a formula of land area and population; states will receive between 1 and 5 percent of the total amount. States must provide a 25 percent match, leveraging these federal funds even further.

These funds will be used by each state to safeguard wildlife and their habitat as laid out in their existing, congressionally mandated State Wildlife Action Plans. These plans provide accountability and oversight because states can only use these funds on work that is identified within the Action Plans. These plans must be updated every ten years with the latest science, require public input, and are approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservation efforts could include reintroduction of imperiled species, conserving and restoring important habitat, fighting invasive species and disease, and more. States also can use a portion of the funds for wildlife-related recreation such wildlife viewing, nature photography, and trails. In addition, they can improve conservation education efforts to engage the next generation of our nation’s wildlife stewards.

A win-win for at-risk species

As described above, this new legislation uses tried and tested fish and wildlife conservation and recovery funding methods and applies them to at-risk species that have been historically underserved by our nation’s conservation model. And it does so using funds from corporations and businesses extracting natural resources from our nation’s land and waters. Not only does this fairly compensate for some of the impacts of natural resource extraction and development, but both wildlife and business benefit through proactive conservation efforts that work to avoid the need for ESA listings. These listings can (rightfully) increase regulations on natural resource use, land management, recreation, and more in order to protect endangered species. For fish and wildlife as well the economy, it’s better to recover species before they reach the point of needing to be listed.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a win-in. This piece of legislation will benefit and support our nation’s fish and wildlife, healthy habitat, wildlands and ecosystems, as well as businesses and the economy. Conservationists and wildlife stakeholders from birders to hunters and anglers should applaud this bi-partisan proposal. We hope it will see strong support in Congress, including from Washington’s delegation. Stay tuned for more updates and opportunities to show your support as this important effort moves forward.

TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS, WITH COMMONSENSE

After the horrifying violence in Orlando, many of my friends are posting for and against greater gun control. Here’s my take: I’m a proud owner of several guns, a staunch defender of the 2nd Amendment, and a strong supporter of commonsense firearms regulations.

My guns are tools which I use to hunt and recreate. From the time I was a kid I was taught to handle them with uncompromising responsibility. Treating guns as if they are always loaded, never pointing them at anything that we didn’t intend to legally kill, and storing them under lock and key. No exceptions. I was lucky to get this training, and later a multi-day hunter’s safety course.

I strongly believe a similar course designed around gun safety and covering responsible firearms use, care and storage, with testing on the course materials, expanded background and mental health checks, and licensing requirements after completion of the course, should be a prerequisite for all firearm purchases nationwide. I’d happily pay a small tax on firearm and ammunition sales to fund such a program.

I cherish my guns, and my rights to keep and bear them. But I also believe those who do not pass such a course, who fail background or mental health checks, or who present a known risk to society should have no right to firearms. It is unfathomable to me that someone on an FBI watch list can still acquire a gun in a matter of minutes.

I passed a Hunter Education class to get my hunting license. We take Driver’s Ed to get our drivers licenses. An online course of mind-numbing length is required to get a Boater’s License. Recently, I spent over an hour at the Department of Licensing filling out forms and providing documentation just to make a 10 foot aluminum boat legal before crabbing season. Turns out, I have to go back with more paperwork.

Yet an untrained, unstable or radicalized person can legally acquire a tool of deadly power in less than 30 minutes. In many states, they can do so with literally no questions asked. To me, this is unacceptable. And not only is the price we are paying as a nation, as communities and as families far too high, but frankly I believe this extreme ease of access is an offense to the millions of trained and responsible gun owners in this country.

I’m one of those gun owners. And I unflinchingly support the basic right of responsible Americans to keep and bear arms. But commonsense gun control is not a liberal plot to take our firearms or our heritage. Please, make me pass a gun safety test and enhanced background and mental health checks. Make me endure reasonable mandatory waiting periods. And make me obtain a state or national firearms license. Responsible and well-intentioned gun owners should have no trouble completing those requirements.

It won’t stop all gun violence or all acts of terrorism, but sensible gun control regulations and mandatory gun safety education, testing, and licensing; to me that’s commonsense. And it’s far past time to make it common.

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My trusty 30.06 Ruger on an Eastern Washington mule deer hunt. 

STRONG SUPPORT FOR NORTH CASCADES GRIZZLY BEARS

The latest estimate from wildlife agencies states that fewer than 10 grizzly bears remain in the North Cascades, making it the most at-risk bear population in North America. Without help, they’ll soon be locally extinct (extirpated). Restoring this iconic species might mean increased precautions among hikers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts like myself, but I believe we have a responsibility to do what we can to bring back this missing Northwest native before it’s too late. And new polling shows that 80% of Washington voters agree.

Learn more and show your support at www.northcascadesgrizzly.org

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Background

Grizzly bears have lived in Washington’s North Cascades for approximately twenty thousand years. In 2016, wildlife experts estimate that fewer than ten remain, making it the most at-risk bear population in North America. In 2015, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in coordination with other federal and state agencies, began a multi-year public Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to plan for the restoration of a healthy and functioning grizzly bear population in the North Cascades. Designated a national Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone in 1997, the area encompasses approximately 9,800 square miles from the U.S.-Canada border south to Interstate 90 and is anchored by North Cascades National Park. It’s one of the largest contiguous blocks of wild public land remaining in the lower 48 states.

The National Park Service, USFWS and other agencies are expected to release draft EIS alternatives for restoring a healthy grizzly bear population to the North Cascades in the fall of 2016. Public comments on those alternatives will be open at that time.

In June 2015, the federal agencies released a summary report of the approximately 3,000 public comments submitted during the EIS scoping period held in early 2015. Of those who submitted comments in support of or opposition to grizzly bear restoration during that period, comments from grizzly bear restoration supporters outnumbered those from opponents by over five to one.

More information

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A map of current federally-designated Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Fewer than 10 grizzly bears are believed to remain in Washington’s North Cascades Ecosystem. 70-80 grizzly bears are believed to reside in the transboundary Selkirk Mountains Ecosystem of northeast Washington, northwest Idaho and southern British Columbia, with bears approximately equally divided between the Canadian and U.S. portions of the ecosystems. No grizzly bears are believed to currently exist in the Bitterroot Ecosystem of central Idaho and western Montana.

And here’s some more context on this issue that I shared with a friend via Facebook

Whether bear transplants from northeast Washington (where there are 70-80 grizzly bears in the transboundary Selkirk Mountains Ecosystem) or elsewhere are necessary to restore a “healthy” population of grizzly bears in the North Cascades is a key question the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) currently being conducted by the National Park Service, USFWS and other agencies aims to answer.

Because of isolation from other grizzly bear populations to the north and east, the few remaining grizzlies in the North Cascades are almost certainly not interacting with other grizzly bears. The southern British Columbia grizzly populations are also struggling, and they’re separated from the North Cascades by the Fraser River Valley. There have been grizzly documentations in north-central Washington in eastern Okanogan County and Stevens County in recent years, but not enough to suggest a link between grizzly populations in the North Cascades and the Selkirks/Greater Rocky Mountains.

What’s more, that fewer than 10 in the North Cascades estimate from the agencies is very generous. My informed guess would be fewer than 5, including the British Columbia side where grizzly bears were photographed in 2010 and 2012, the most recent confirmed documentations in the ecosystem.

With that very low number and their isolation in mind, it’s highly likely that moving a small number of breeding-age bears into the North Cascades over several years (perhaps 5 a year over 5 years, though nothing has been decided) from an area with similar habitat and food sources will be required to jumpstart the recovery of the North Cascades population. A similar grizzly augmentation program was conducted in NW Montana’s Cabinent-Yaak Mountains with relative success.

But it will take a complete EIS and a lot of support from the public, stakeholders including the tribes, and elected officials to make that happen in the North Cascades. If you haven’t already seen it, this video from my colleague Chris Morgan Wildlife does a great job explaining the issue: https://vimeo.com/156215718

Conservation Northwest and several Canadian orgs and First Nations also have a fantastic coalition working to restore habitat and reconnect the grizzly bears of southern BC’s Coast Range with those of the North Cascades: the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative. The pieces are coming together to support the long term recovery of these animals in suitable habitat across the Northwest, but the missing link is that North Cascades population on the brink of extirpation.

Wanted: Grizzly Bears? Film

Wanted: Grizzly Bears? from ChrisMorganWildlife on Vimeo.

PROTECT YOUR PUBLIC LANDS FILM

With increasing threats to public lands from extremist militants, influential politicians and powerful special-interest funders like the Koch Brothers, Conservation Northwest and eight other national and regional conservation organizations launched a new short film and coordinated campaign today to protect America’s public lands.

Through a petition and social media tools on the website www.protectpubliclands.com, the campaign calls on the millions of Americans who hike, camp, ski, fish, climb, watch wildlife, or otherwise love their public lands to urge elected leaders to reject all attempts to give away, sell, transfer or otherwise abuse our nation’s public lands heritage

The film, titled “Protect Your Lands,” contrasts the devious threats that national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands face with the tremendous dedication Americans have for these places.

After working on this video and helping to coordinate this campaign on a very short tight timeline over the past two months, it’s great to see it finally going live. A big thanks to all the funders who pitched in, organizations and staffers that provided guidance, input and support, and especially to videographer Trip Jennings and his team at Balance Media for making the magic it happen.

Despite polls consistently showing strong public support for protecting and maintaining national public lands (Colorado College), and data demonstrating the enormous economic value of public lands in the form of $646 billion in consumer spending and 6.1 million direct jobs nationwide (Outdoor Industry Association), 2016 has seen the armed takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and a rise in legislative proposals seeking to dismantle the nation’s iconic public lands system.

The threats to our public lands are real. And they’re much bigger and graver than a few militants and faux-cowboys. We all have a responsibility to preserve and pass on our public lands for future generations. Please join us to protect these priceless pieces of our natural heritage.

MY OP-ED IN THE SEATTLE TIMES

Published in the April 12, 2016 edition. Reshared below along with a few supporting links added. Thank you to The Seattle Times for allowing me to write and share about this important issue.

Note: Washington state law allows people to take immediate lethal action against wolves “caught in the act” of attacking pets or livestock. I have no objections to this law or to people defending their stock or pets in such circumstances if they are legitimate. Frankly, I’d do the same. Under our state’s legal code, situations such as these would not be considered poaching. Poaching is the illegal killing of fish and wildlife.

Stiffer penalties needed for poaching wolves

http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/stiffer-penalties-needed-for-poaching-wolves

Poaching may be limiting progress toward wolf recovery goals.

By Chase Gunnell
Special to The Times

WOLVES are important native predators and vital pieces of our wildlife heritage. The news [“Four new wolf packs recorded in state,” Local News, March 14] that Washington is now home to at least 90 wolves, 18 packs and eight breeding pairs is exciting.

However, eight years after wolves were first confirmed back in the North Cascades, there are only three wolf packs in that designated recovery area. There remain no confirmed wolf packs in the Cascades south of Interstate 90 or in Western Washington. In order to meet wolf-recovery goals agreed upon under the Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan), and for the long term viability of the species in our state, it’s important that wolves recolonize the high-quality habitat in the Olympic Peninsula and Washington’s South Cascades.

It’s not unexpected that wolf recovery would take longer in these areas compared to the northeast and southeast corners of our state. But nearly a decade into wolf recovery, and with unoccupied habitat widely available, and deer, elk and other prey populations healthy, my organization, Conservation Northwest, is concerned the illegal killing of wolves is delaying their recovery. We’re advocating for stronger penalties to deter wolf poaching.

Wolves are protected by both state and federal endangered-species laws in Washington. Yet wolf poaching has occurred with tragic frequency in recent years. Several members of the Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack were poached in 2010. A wolf from the Smackout Pack was poached in late 2013. The 2014 poaching of a Kittitas County breeding female wolf is still unprosecuted. In September 2015, shamefully minimal fines were announced for a Whitman County wolf poacher. Also in 2015, investigators announced that a lone wolf killed by a vehicle on I-90 west of Snoqualmie Pass had previously been shot. Numerous other unconfirmed rumors of wolf poaching reach us each year, and some are most certainly true.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a bull elk or a wolf, poaching is never acceptable. It’s an abuse of the shared natural heritage that belongs to all of us. Many stakeholders in Washington are working hard to responsibly coexist with native predators. We know that some are looking forward to the day when wolf-recovery goals are met and more flexible wolf management is allowed. Illegal poaching does nothing but delay that day and cast a shadow on the otherwise responsible hunting and ranching communities.

We applaud efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, livestock producers, hunters, wildlife watchers and other stakeholders to collaborate on decision-making related to wolves. The greater inclusion and genuine listening demonstrated in 2015 by the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG), of which my organization is a member, is leading to a transformation of the conflict that all too often shrouds predator recovery. This is laudable progress that we believe will lead to better outcomes for everyone. And we hope that the benefits of this collaboration will include increased social tolerance for predators and less wolf killing. We’re committed to working with all parties to ensure that Washington can be the state where wolf conservation works in the long run, for people, wolves and all our state’s wildlife.

Responsible Washingtonians are working together and making compromises, including partnering to fund and implement proactive measures to reduce or prevent wolf depredations on livestock. Various stakeholders are supporting research by our state’s universities to monitor the impact of the wolf’s return on deer, elk and other ungulate populations — animals cherished by wildlife watchers and hunters alike, myself included.

Yet indications remain that illegal wolf killing is delaying progress toward recovery objectives agreed upon during the formation of the Wolf Plan. Our state’s elected leaders, justice system and the Department of Fish and Wildlife should implement stiffer penalties and increased enforcement to safeguard the comeback of Washington’s wolves.

IF4 FLY FISHING FILM FESTIVAL APRIL 7 IN SEATTLE

A great event benefiting the Wild Steelhead Coalition and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. Over 200 fly fishing, outdoors, clothing and travel items will be raffled off after the show. Hope to see you there!

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Summary from WSC: Join us on April 7th at Tini Bigs and Hula Hula for the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. This year’s event features a great set of films and a huge raffle. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Wild Steelhead Coalition and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
The proceeds from the event will be donated to the Wild Steelhead Coalition and Puget Soundkeeper. Doors open at 4:00 PM, and the event gets underway at 7:00 PM. Purchase your tickets today online for $15.

SKAGIT STEELHEAD HABITAT RESTORATION VIDEO

The mighty Skagit River once produced some of the largest returns of wild steelhead in the Lower 48. Not only were the fish plentiful, many were huge, with 20 and even 30 pound wild steelhead not uncommon. Today, the runs are greatly diminished, but those epic genes live on in the fish that still return to the Skagit each year.

With the support of the Orvis Company, the Wild Steelhead Coalition, and the Skagit River System Cooperative, a joint effort providing natural resource management and restoration services for the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, have teamed up to restore historic sidechannel habitats in the Skagit watershed, increasing it’s potential for wild fish and supporting the return of it’s legendary salmon and steelhead runs.

This is monumental work, with exponential benefits for wild fish and for anglers like myself who still cherish our days on this iconic river. I’m proud to support it. If you want to be a part of bringing back the mighty Skagit, make a donation or become a member of the Wild Steelhead Coalition today.

Barnaby Slough Project WSC

Skagit River: Barnaby Slough RestorationWe teamed up with the Skagit River System Cooperative and The Orvis Company to use drone technology to map out and survey a critical habitat restoration project on the Skagit River, which is home to Puget Sound’s largest winter steelhead run. The project is an ambitious undertaking that will transform Barnaby Slough back into a natural fish factory.

Posted by Wild Steelhead Coalition on Thursday, March 24, 2016

DIVIDED WE FALL, AND THEY WIN

An important read from reporter Chris Soloman in Outside Magazine for anyone that cares about outdoor recreation, fishing and hunting, or wildlands and wildlife conservation.

The New Golden Rule of Playing Outside: Place First.

www.outsideonline.com/2059261/big-idea-conservationist-recreationist-wilderness-clash

Rarely a day goes by in my work when I don’t encounter this problem. Should-be allies have divided and conquered themselves; skiers, climbers, and mountain bikers in one corner, hunters and anglers in another, pragmatic wildlife and wildlands conservationists in a third, and Sierra Club-style environmentalists trying to remain both radical and relevant in another.

All the while the Bundys, Koch Brothers and their allies in DC and states and counties across the West circle their wagons, plot to take America’s public lands, and undermine vital conservation tools like the Wilderness, Antiquities, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. And right now, they’re winning the long game.

CONSERVATION VS. CONVERSATION

My fellow Wild Steelhead Coalition boardmember, very fishy dude and incredibly talented fly tier Josh Mills (the similarities stop after “boardmember”), voice behind the Chucking Line and Chasing Tail blog, turned me on to an interesting discussion today happening on the Washington Fly Fishing Forum.

In short, a question was asked regarding how much time people spend talking about fishing, compared to how much time people spend supporting or working on causes to benefit fish and fishing.

It’s an important question, one that should be considered more and more with each new threat to fish and fisheries. And one that I think has no perfect or preferred answer.

While of course I believe the world would be a better place if more people got involved in or supported conservation causes at local, regional, national and international levels, the responses to this sort of question will always vary. And they should. We all have our own means and commitments, our own work-life balances and varying abilities to give back to our world and our communities. To each their own is fine.

But for the greater “outdoor community”, I believe that doing nothing is unacceptable. Whether you’re a hiker, national parks visitor, birder, hunter, angler or even a public lands rancher or logger, doing something big or small to support the shared natural resources that you benefit from is a ethical requirement.

Here’s my comment on the forum discussion: 

Dig the poll. And Millsy’s great addition to the conservation conversation: http://millsfly.blogspot.com/2016/02/action-vs-talk-in-conservation.html?m=1

I talk about fishing enough that my fiancée started a drinking game for every time I talk about fishing. She’s now considering expanding it to hunting, at least for the summer and fall.

But I’m lucky in that my job is conversing about conservation. Talking about protecting and restoring fish, wildlife, habitat, public lands, outdoor opportunities, etc. pays my bills. Barely. And it means a lot less time actually fishing or doing cool stuff in the field than one might wish for. I’m still lucky to do it. And outside my day job, I volunteer for the group that I consider to be “the soul of wild steelhead conservation”.

I do it because in between bonking and eating salmon or knocking down pheasants and geese, my mentors beat it into me that if you are a hunter or a fisherman, or really an outdoor user of any kind, you are a conservationist. It is not optional.

It doesn’t matter whether you write an occasional check or public comment email, or you try to make a career out of stewarding wild things and wild places. I believe that if one experiences our natural heritage, they are required to do what is in their means to leave it better than when they found it.

Conservation has many faces. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to degrade someone for doing less than anyone else. What’s important is that each of us find our own ways to give back to the land, waters, forests,  fish and wildlife that give us so much.

This is conservation:

Summer and Fall 2015 (5)USFS biologist building a “run pole” remote camera monitoring site for research on wolverine recovery in Washington’s Cascades. Photo: CG
UntitledYours truly speaking up for keeping public lands in public hands. Photo: Les Walsh, National Wildlife Federation 
Gold Creek Planting Party, Oct. 4th near Snoqualmie PassVolunteers removing invasive plants and restoring fish and wildlife habitat near Snoqualmie Pass. This site is near a newly completed wildlife crossing under Interstate 90 as well as an important spawning tributary for bull trout and kokanee salmon. Photo: CG
Colville National Forest Range Riding
A ranching family uses classic cowboy techniques, modern GPS technologies and knowledge of predator behavior to keep both livestock and endangered wolves safe on the range. Photo: CG

And so is this:

North Cascades grizzly bear restoration Scoping Period Seattle open house The next generation submits public comments sharing their support for proposals to restore a healthy grizzly bear population to Washington’s North Cascades. Photo: CG
'Wild Things' Film Screening with NRDC Film screening attendees listen to a panel discussion on methods for coexistence between people, livestock and predators like wolves, coyotes, cougars and grizzly bears. Photo: CG
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Yours truly giving testimony to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in support of commonsense steelhead angling regulations on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, including an end to sport harvest of wild steelhead. Photo: J. Stumpf
25th anniversary celebration and Hope for a Wild Future auctionDonors show their support protecting, connecting and restoring wildlife and wildlands at a Conservation Northwest auction. Photo: CNW

Conservation can be as easy as clicking a Take Action link or as hard as pouring your life into making a compelling documentary. It can even be as simple as reducing your own negative impact on our environment and it’s wild things in thoughtful ways, and encouraging others to do the same.

But whatever you do, if you’re going to benefit from our shared natural resources, and in fact all of us do, whether it’s as broad as having clean drinking water or as specific as catching a wild steelhead, sitting on the sidelines is unacceptable. Do something.

LOOKING AHEAD TO PROTECT OUR PUBLIC LANDS

The below is a piece I wrote for Conservation Northwest’s website blog on Friday, February 12th. Republished here with a few more photos.

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Reflections on Malheur, America’s natural heritage, and those who would take it from us

The seizure of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed extremists demanding that the government hand over America’s public lands to local or private control has ended. But the struggle to keep our public lands in public hands is far from finished.

As a passionate hunter, angler, hiker and conservationist, at times it feels like the movement to seize our nation’s public lands is an assault on core elements of my identity. My parents and grandparents raised me with public dirt under my fingernails. Some of my earliest memories include fishing for salmon on rivers flowing out of the Cascades, gathering mushrooms in Olympic National Forest, and hunting pheasants on wildlife areas across Eastern Washington.

Wild places provided me with joy and solace during a rocky adolescence. In college and soon after public mountains and forests were the source of adrenaline rushes, powder days and icy summits, and more importantly the strength, confidence and camaraderie that no other classroom can teach. Today, I still find those things and more when I visit the natural heritage that all Americans have been endowed with. And I go there often to feel not apart from the natural world, but a part of it.

What then is someone like me to make of those who have recently seized a piece of our public endowment? And what of the larger movement behind the Oregon Standoff, one that’s well-organized and well-funded with the aim of taking for private benefit the public lands that I and so many others have relied on? Malheur may be empty of militants today, but that extreme and misguided campaign is not over.

Your’s truly speaking at the “Public Lands For All Rally” in Seattle on January 19th, 2016. Photo: Les Walsh, National Wildlife Federation

Law enforcement deserve praise

After a dramatic and sometimes bizarre dialogue that was live-broadcast to over 60,000 listeners, the four remaining holdouts surrendered to law enforcement officials at approximately 11:00 a.m. yesterday. A federal grand jury previously indicted 16 others involved, including the group’s de facto leader Ammon Bundy, an Arizona businessman and son of notorious rancher Cliven Bundy. No one was injured, and no shots were fired Thursday morning. It was the 41st day of the refuge takeover.

The senior Bundy was also arrested on Thursday at Portland International Airport while en route to the wildlife refuge. He faces a list of charges related to the 2014 standoff at his Nevada ranch, including assault on a federal officer, firearms crimes, obstruction of justice, extortion, and conspiracy. Cliven also owes the Bureau of Land Management, and thereby U.S. taxpayers, over $1 million in unpaid public lands grazing fees.

This relatively peaceful end to a prolonged and bitter episode is a testament to the efficacy and patience of federal law enforcement agents and Oregon State Police, as well as that of Harney County Sheriff David Ward. Those involved in bringing this incident to a close and protecting our public lands should be commended.

Sheriff Ward, a native of eastern Oregon and a veteran who served in Somalia and Afghanistan, emerged as a particularly inspiring figure during the standoff. Ward, known around Harney County as “Sheriff Dave,” worked to resolve the conflict without further bloodshed, holding dialogues with militants, local residents and government officials while standing tall as a voice of reason and order among a community in strife.

With emotion in his voice as he spoke to the media after leaders of the refuge takeover were arrested in late January, Sheriff Ward said: “If we have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act on them in an appropriate manner. We don’t arm up and rebel. … This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America. And it can’t happen in Harney County.”

I sincerely hope that other would-be militants hear the sheriff’s pleas for dialogue and unity. And that he and other law enforcement officers involved, as well as local residents impacted including the Burns Paiute Tribe, can now find some peace and rest with family and friends. Perhaps even by enjoying the great tranquility found in the area’s extraordinary public lands.

M. Lake North Cascades

Our public lands, including national parks and monuments, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management deserts and grasslands, and national forests, like this fishing spot on the Okanogan-Wenatchee, belong to all Americans. With collaboration, compromise and respectful dialogue, we can manage them in a way that sustainably benefits all users as well as future generations.

Public lands for all

In discussing the formation of the U.S. Forest Service, President Roosevelt famously said: “the rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and must be given its first consideration.”

The extremists who took over Malheur used armed intimidation to pursue the “transfer” of public lands for private gain and personal redress. We are pleased that they are being brought to justice and for now are prevented from further efforts to steal from our natural heritage. However, like the “Sagebrush Rebellion” before them, their land grab crusade is far from exhausted.

Backed by groups like the American Lands Council and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and shadowy billionaire donors including the Koch Brothers, the Malheur debacle was just one skirmish in a bigger conflict. Even in Washington state we’ve seen attempts by some elected officials to study the “transfer” of our public lands. The desire of all these groups? To handover America’s forests, deserts, wildlife refuges and other public lands to state or county control. And then when these local entities cannot afford to manage such lands, as numerousstudies show would certainly be the case, have them sold off to private corporations for unrestricted logging, fracking and mining or to be bought up as playgrounds for the very rich.

If they have their way, the tagline of our public lands will shift from “This Land is Your Land” to “No Trespassing.”

Let there be no doubt, there is zero constitutional or legal basis for extremist claims denouncing America’s public lands. There is however a loud sentiment among some that environmental regulations governing grazing and logging are driving the economic woes of rural communities. I, and Conservation Northwest, recognize that some citizens and certain public land users may feel hemmed in by government bureaucracy. Or even by the actions of conservation groups.

While environmental regulations are a fundamental necessity for ensuring that current and future generations can use these lands for both extractive and non-extractive purposes, Conservation Northwest is an organization that engages in open dialogue and genuine listening to find common ground and collaboratively reach solutions to challenging issues. “Us vs. Them” mentalities and “Green vs. Brown” culture wars do no one any good, least of all our wildlife and wildlands. In crafting local solutions, we also think it is crucial to understand the larger economic changes that make it harder for people in rural communities to make a living, such as consolidation of the meat processing industry and regional and global shifts in timber production.

Interestingly, Malheur itself is one such collaborative success story. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established on August 18, 1908, by President Theodore Roosevelt. Unclaimed government lands in the area were set aside “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” Land was added to the refuge over the years through purchases from willing landowners. With enduring partnerships between refuge staff, state and federal agencies, local farmers and ranchers, and other stakeholders including birders and hunters, Malheur became “known for listening,” a model for successful collaboration on America’s public lands; a point apparently lost on those who seized the refuge to advance their land grab agenda.

High Buck Hunt, Alpine Unit

Your truly smiling after the sun broke out on morning three of a backcountry mule deer hunt on national forest lands. It had snowed heavily the previous two days, and our exit was the steep gully behind me. Hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and outdoor recreation directly contribute to 6.1 million jobs a year and $646 billion in consumer spending nationwide, hugely benefiting local economies and rural communities. These activities depend on protected and accessible public lands.

Keeping public lands in public hands

Public lands managed by the federal government for all Americans not only protect our history, wildlife habitat, and natural beauty, but they draw visitors from across the country and around the world. More than 292 million people visited national parks last year, and even more hiked, camped, fished, watched wildlife, and enjoyed other public lands like national forests and wildlife refuges. These places are vital to millions of small businesses in nearby communities, and an important part of our nation’s economy.

And despite the extremists who spent the last 41 days grabbing headlines, bi-partisan polling has consistently shown broad public support for federal ownership of public lands. What’s more, many ranchers and other commercial users of public lands recognize that their fees for utilizing public lands are a fraction of what they’d likely pay to conduct the same for-profit activity on private property. The ranchers I’ve had the pleasure of working with also recognize that responsible management of public rangelands is key to their industry and their way of life.

Studies have also shown that “rural counties in the West with the most federal lands did better economically than other counties. Those counties saw faster growth in population, employment, personal income, and per capital income growth.” The outdoor recreation industry alone generates “6.1 million jobs a year and $646 billion in consumer spending nationwide.” In Washington state nearly 200,000 jobs are supported directly or indirectly by outdoor recreation, more than our state’s technology or aerospace industries. Extremist propaganda may try to make some residents believe otherwise, but public lands are undeniably good for local communities and economies.

Protected and connected public lands are at the core of Conservation Northwest’s mission. And we firmly believe that public lands are the birthright of all Americans. They’re vital habitat for fish and wildlife, and give all of us, rich or poor, urban or rural, the opportunity to hike, ski, climb, fish, hunt and much more. As conservationist John Muir put it, these are places to find “beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Public forestlands are also the source of most of America’s drinking water and store vast amounts of carbon to stabilize our climate. And when we share and manage them according to thoughtful stewardship and the rule of law, public lands provide the resources for sustainable forestry, livestock grazing and other commercial uses.

Our national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other public lands belong to all of us, including school children in Seattle, ranchers in Nevada, birders in Portland, hikers in Omak and lumber mill workers in Colville. When I fish, hike or hunt on public lands, I cherish the fact that this land is truly MY land. And that I get to share it with my fellow Americans. Public lands belong to and benefit all of us. And from petitioning the media and elected leaders to holding rallies and continuing to work with diverse stakeholders inforest collaboratives and on conflict transformation around wildlife management, Conservation Northwest will continue working tirelessly to keep it that way.

That oft-quoted founding father of conservation Teddy Roosevelt said one more thing that’s worth dwelling on today: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

Over 100 years later we still face threats to our country’s natural wonders. But in the face of these new threats let it be known that we have not forgotten Roosevelt’s warning. And to those who would try to steal our sacred heritage for their private gain: we will not let you.

Highwayman's Hole II (21)

Steelhead fly fishing in southeast Washington. The left bank is a wildlife area, the right is BLM land. Just downstream are plenty of  ‘No Trespassing’ signs on a private ranch. The American West has more than enough of those signs already.