Monday, April 21, 2014

EVENT SET TO CELEBRATE STREAM ACCESS VICTORY FOR MONTANANS

Below is an alert we recieved from our friends at the Montana Wildlife Federation. Hellgate Hunters & Anglers is a proud affiliate of MWF, along with our partner organizations, Public Land & Water Access Association, who fights valiantly every day to ensure our right to access public land and water is never infringed. We are proud to be associated with such great advocates and stewards of our land & wildlife!

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A celebration of the recent Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld public access to the Ruby River at the Seyler Lane Bridge near Twin Bridges will be held 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks.

The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. The celebration is sponsored by several local and state conservation organizations.

The recent Montana Supreme Court ruling settled the issue of stream access at bridges throughout Montana. Seyler Lane is a prescriptive right-of-way that crosses private land owned by billionaire James Cox Kennedy, who has tried to block public access to the Ruby River for two decades.

The ruling also reaffirmed Montana's Stream Access Law and reinforced Montana's hard-won 2009 Bridge Access Law, which upheld the public road right-of-way as the full width of the road and over the bridge to a stream's high-water mark. The lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court ruling was filed against Madison County in 2004 by the Public Land/Water Access Association (PLWA).

"The Montana Supreme Court once again ruled that Montana's streams are not for sale," said Tony Schoonen, a founding member of the Montana Coalition for Stream Access, which filed the suit in the late 1970s that led to the passage of Montana's Stream Access Law. Since then Schoonen has been in the forefront in the fight for stream access inMontana and serves on the board of PLWA.

"We thought we should have a party to celebrate this victory that impacts so many Montanans and their ability to use our rivers and streams," Schoonen said.

The event is being sponsored by PLWA, the Montana Wildlife Federation, George Grant and Madison-Gallatin chapters of Trout Unlimited, Skyline Sportsmen in Butte and the Anaconda Sportsmen.

For more information, please contact event organizer Rich Day at 490-3902 or Nick Gevock, MWF Conservation Director, at 533-9432. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Good Deeds

We have long been advocates for the Land & Water Conservation Fund. LWCF has provided funding for about 70% of our fishing access sites, given us permanent access to quality hunting grounds like the Marshall Block & Fish Creek in the west and Tenderfoot in the Belt Mountains of Central Montana. All of these projects and acquisitions work to ensure vibrant wildlife populations on the most important habitats of Montana.

LWCF enjoys widespread support in Montana. Now, our congressional delegation is united in ensuring that the Land & Water Conservation Fund continues to work for Montanans. Yesterday, Congressman Steve Daines issued a press release calling attention to the Fund:

“As our nation continues down the path towards economic recovery, LWCF should be adequately funded to ensure that it plays the strongest possible role in revitalizing local communities,” Daines wrote. “America’s outdoor recreation, conservation and preservation economies contribute $1.06 trillion to the nation’s economy each year and support 9.4 million American jobs. Support for public lands among the American public remains consistently and overwhelmingly strong.”

This follows closely on the heels of Senator John Walsh’s co-sponsorship of S 338, the full funding and reauthorization of the Land & Water Conservation Fund. Senator Walsh, in a press release, had this to say:

“In Montana, we have a proud outdoor heritage that brings JOBS and billions of dollars into our state every year,” Walsh said. “We value our natural resources and public lands, and preserving access for all Montanans and visitors from around the country. With tourism as one of our state's largest economic drivers, it is important to take responsibility to fully fund the LWCF.”

Montana’s Senior Senator, Jon Tester, has been an advocate for public access to public lands and the Land & Water Conservation Fund for his entire time in the Senate. His “Making Public Lands Public Act,” which would provide 1.5% of all LWCF funds to be dedicated to unlocking land-locked public land has earned broad, bi-partisan support as well. Recently, Congressman Daines introduced similar legislation into the House.

It’s not often you get all three of Montana’s congressional delegation on the same page. With LWCF, however, it’s a no-brainer. Public Lands are huge economic drivers and assets for Montana’s diverse economy. Access to public land is at a premium. Only by working together and fighting for constituents who hunt, fish, hike, play and work on these public lands are we able to continue the promise first made in 1965 when Congress passed the Land & Water Conservation Fund enabling act.

Access matters. So does habitat conservation. Our Senators and our Representative are working together to ensure that Montanans continue to have both through the Land & Water Conservation Fund. That is something to truly celebrate.

The only piece of the puzzle missing is support of Full Funding & Reauthorization from Congressman Daines. When that comes, we’ll be dancing a jig on Higgins Avenue. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Montana's Bounty

There have been a couple of interesting news items over the last couple of weeks. Both of them revolve around conservation funding. We all know that the world is run by money, but how that affects our ability to hunt & fish rarely is shown in such dramatic terms.

First, Montana could receive almost $22 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, if it were to be fully funded as prescribed in the President’s current budget. That money would go to the purchase of places like the Tenderfoot acquisition, in the Belt Mountains (Which is #3 on the list nationwide for acquisitions). Other places include land that is currently owned by timber companies like Plum Creek, who have been working with state and federal stakeholders to ensure that traditional hunting lands remain open for future generations as they are transferred into public ownership. The LWCF funds would also go to programs like the Blackfoot Challenge and the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Program: Both of those programs deal with conserving private land for public wildlife; ensuring that there are incentives for landowners to engage in maintaining quality habitat on private land.

Second: Montana will receive almost $28 million from excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear. That money goes to Fish, Wildlife and Parks and will be used for a host of programs that benefit public land hunters & anglers. We all know how difficult it’s been to find .22 ammo and components for reloading, but that shortfall on the shelves has led to record revenues for conservation. That in turn lead to the announcement from Secretary Jewell, which saw $1.1 billion in funding headed back to the states. Montana’s share is $28 million, or about 20% of FWP’s total budget.

Directly related to that: Montana’s Senator John Walsh recently helped get funds from the Sportsman’s Trusts released from the effects of sequestration. When Sequestration became the law of the land after Congress couldn't pass a budget, the Wildlife Restoration Program and the Boating Safety Trust Funds, known collectively as the Sportsmen’s Trust Funds, were held essentially in escrow – neither being spent on the National Debt, nor spent on the programs hunters & anglers lobbied for. Senator Walsh and host of other Legislators saw that as being well outside of the scope of Sequestration and an unnecessary reduction in spending. The Office of Management and Budget agreed, and released the funds to be spent as they were intended: On fish, wildlife and the conservation of our national resources.

Altogether, that’s over $40 million for Montana’s wildlife, wild places, working landscapes and increased public access to public lands. That kind of investment is remarkable, especially in the face of repeated attempts to strip Montanans of their public lands, and their ability to hunt & fish.

Hunters & Anglers spend billions of dollars every year on conservation through license sales, excise taxes, donations of money and time to groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and our very own Hellgate Hunters & Anglers. That investment is at the core of our long seasons and abundant wildlife. Budgets aren't sexy. There’s no fancy model standing next to a Power-Point showing line item expenditures for land acquisition or fence removal. There’s no glitzy commercial showing how the Sportsmen’s Trust Funds increase the number of sensitive species and reduce the number of critters that need listing under the Endangered Species Act. But the reality of our collective largess is that hunters and anglers continue to pour their hearts, minds and wallets into ensuring America, and Montana, remain a hunter & anglers paradise.

Recently, the National Shooting Sports Foundation has released an infographic showing how your license and excise tax dollars help wildlife:





Thursday, March 20, 2014

North Fork Watershed Protection Act hung up in the Senate


The North Fork of the Flathead is one of those places that deserve special protection. Nobody in Montana disagrees on that, not even our Congressional delegation. The bill, which was negotiated by then Governor Brian Schweitzer and introduced by former Senator Max Baucus and co-sponsored by Senator Jon Tester was introduced into the House earlier this year by Congressman Steve Daines. The bill was able to move out of the House easily enough, just like it has been able to move out of the Senate Committee on an unanimous vote.

Unfortunately, petty politics seem to be getting in the way of any movement out of the Senate and on to the President’s Desk. Last week, Senators Walsh & Tester made a rather disconcerting declaration that Senators Cruz, Toomey & Coburn have stalled the bill, seeking to blackmail Congress into reducing protections on other lands.

This is politics at its worst. The long accepted method for passing public land legislation specific to a certain state was this: If the entire delegation agreed it was a good idea, Congress would pass the bill.

That time, apparently, has passed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bison as a Condition of the Land

Last week, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century of wildlife management in Montana by saying some fairly simple words: Bison exist as a condition of the Land.

That might sound like a no-brainer, but for Park County, that point wasn’t clear until the Montana Supreme Court said so.

Bison, like all wildlife, existed before people came to settle the valleys and rich plains of Montana. They existed before first nations made their way down the Old North Trail from the Yukon. Bison, like the air and the water that surrounds us, are held in public trust.

That ruling could have the potential to help change the way the State of Montana manages wild bison. To be sure, there will always be those who choose to use fear in managing bison. There will be more legislation trying to undermine 100 plus years of wildlife management. There will be more efforts to exterminate the last, remaining wild herd of bison in Montana.

There will be considerable resistance to those efforts by Montana’s hunters, anglers and conservationists. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Gettin’ Jiggy with It

Eight fantastic tips for enjoying one of Montana’s oft-neglected winter sports

By Jessie Fischer
So it’s March in Western Montana, which to me is one of the longest stretches of depressing weather one can expect during the year.  If you live in a valley like I do, you might find yourself bargaining with the weather gods for either a sunny day, or a good, solid snowstorm that doesn’t convert itself to ice in a day or two.  Well, if you’re tired of waiting out the avalanche warnings, staring at the sky, which you no longer believe to be truly blue, or you’re ready to lock your kids/dog/spouse in a closet because your backyard /school playground/ park/ trail has become a muddy ice pit, why don’t you mix it up and try an ice fishing outing? 
I’m just going to put it out there and let you know that ice fishing is not one of my regular activity choices.  I get cold easily and occasionally wonder about the point of staring at a hole in the ice in often miserable conditions.  However, I come from an ice angling cultural background and also married into a fishing-obsessed family, so I’ve decided to embrace it and to share my eight best tips of ice fishing enjoyment (or tolerance) with all of you.  I tried to think of ten tips, but I guess eight is good enough.

1.       Make everything a competition.  Yeah, that’s right.  Forget all you've  heard about everyone being a winner.  Any kindergartner can tell you that that’s just not true.  Either you’re a winner, or you’re a loser.  It’s that simple.  If I've learned nothing else from my in-laws, it’s that every activity should test something (mettle, strength, stamina, mental endurance) which makes ice fishing the perfect arena for all of the above.  Can you auger a hole faster than your partner?  Did you catch the biggest fish, the first fish, the last fish, the most fish?  Did you win all of those at the same time?  Can you sit on Georgetown Lake with your face in the wind longer than any of those other yahoos who wimped out and brought huts?  I think you see where this is going.  Anyway, even if you don’t win, you may be a loser, but you forgot about your frozen extremities, right?

2.       Don’t diss the hut.  My husband’s family acquired a hut a couple of years ago, and they were  too embarrassed to use it until this year, when I insisted.  Those yahoos bring huts for a reason..  If you don’t own a hut , make friends with someone who does.  Then, even on a blizzard day, you can make sure that the whiners among your family and friends who are spoiling your endurance sport are tucked safely away out of sight and earshot while you commune with nature and your ice sieve.  Bonus- you still get credit for taking them somewhere besides a movie theater and for providing them with memory-forming fodder.

3.       Get yourself a Coleman.   Ok, I understand that you love your Dragonfly or your JetBoil, but will it cook a brat and boil a pot of water at the same time?  I’d like to see that happen.  I’d also like to see you keep your backpacking stove and pot of water upright and boiling while surrounded by multiple dogs and children.  Not likely.  My husband bought our Coleman at a garage sale for five dollars (the asking price was ten--just so you know that he bought a quality product), and it is one of my favorite investments.  Do yourself a favor and get one.  I’m even giving you permission to skip the REI trip or the pro-deal and buy it somewhere else--like Goodwill.
                                    
4.       Make yourself—or your fellow fisherpeople—useful.   I can tell you’re already shaking your head and thinking, “this ice fishing stuff sounds pretty boring.” You’re imaging the kids whining because they don’t have their iPads or that you’ll be whining because you could be playing Candy Crush, but you’re afraid that you might drop your phone out of your frozen fingers and into your ice hole.  First of all, leave the electronics at home.  They’ll still be there when you get back.  Well actually, a phone is fine.  You need to take photos for bragging purposes, and if someone falls through the ice, you might want it for an emergency call.  Anyway, second point, nobody likes an idle whiner (or any kind of whiner for that matter).  If you’re tired of jigging, give yourself, or someone else, a job.  Try being the photographer.  Everyone likes getting a picture next to his or herhuge pile of kokanee.  You can even give them useful tips about fish placement or fish-holding style for maximum size appearance.  You can also be “that guy”, you know, the one who  wanders around the lake checking on the other anglers and asking nosy questions about fish numbers and types.  This is useful to the rest of your posse because it distracts the other camps from their jigging and gives your family better chances.  Plus, next time, you can steal a better spot.  If the problem isn’t you, you can always put fair-sized children to work auguring more holes for when you get tired of your own.  Encourage this by referring to Tip #1.

5.       Bring supplemental entertainment.  “But wait,” you say.  “I thought you just said to leave all that stuff at home!”  Well, I did, but that doesn’t mean you can bring a pair of cross-country skis and a fair quantity of alcohol, as did our forefathers.  Like I mentioned at the beginning, I get cold quickly and also lose all feeling in my fingers, which greatly inhibits maggot placement on my hook.  It also inhibits any feeling of wellbeing that I might have had at the beginning of the adventure.  When the deep freeze settles, I know it’s time, for everyone’s sake, to get out my skis and take a tour of the lake.   In addition to health benefits of the exercise, anyone can do it, and it’s much easier and more efficient to be “that guy” (Tip #5), not to mention sneakier.  As for the alcohol, I’m not really going to endorse it, but I’ll just assume most of you have experienced its fun/warmth enhancing properties before.  The kids are kind of out of luck with this scenario, but they can tough it out and have maggot-eating contests or make snow angels.  Plus, now you have that Coleman for hot chocolate.

6.       Perfect your technique--by stealing from others.  No one wants to sit on the ice all day with no results.  Frankly, it’s just embarrassing.  So listen to your elders when they give you angling tips.  Feel free to make fun of them while they offer this advice, but store it away anyway, and use it when you think they’re not looking.  Maybe lifting your rod way over your head and then slowly letting the lure sink down really works, but just don’t give them the satisfaction of being right.  If they say that you should cover all parts of your hook with wiggling maggots, scoff, but later discretely check your own hook to make sure that this is the case.  Then, when you catch a big pile of fish, you can just laugh and point to your own expertise. 

7.       Stockpile stories to improve your coolness factor.  Do you have a boss who loves to tell you outdoorsy stories?  Do you have family in warmer parts of the country that you need to impress with your newfound Western toughness?  Are your kids lacking in “uphill both ways” experiences with which to bore their future children?  Well, a few days out on the ice might fix that for you.  When you tell coworkers that you sat out on the lake all day with no shelter in five-degree temperatures, they might look at you like you’ve lost your mind, but underneath they’re really thinking, “How cool is that chick/dude.”  Ice fishing stories are always epic and exciting for others.  Don’t let your audience pretend otherwise.  They’re just jealous.

8.       Always have a good exit strategy.  I’m not going to lie.  Some days on the ice simply aren’t worth it.  Maybe you’re just not feeling it, or the fish aren’t biting, or your collapsible hut is just way too confusing to put together.  I hear you.  However, don’t look like a weenie in front of the other people on the lake, your buddies, or your kids.    Surely you have any number of important things waiting for you back home, like film festivals or fund-raising dinners.  Maybe you have animals to feed or think you may have left the gas range on.  If you’re really unimaginative (or just not busy enough), you can always “accidently” drop all your maggots down the hole or put your synthetic mittens on the hot Coleman.  Those are always pretty solid game-enders.  By having any number of escape tactics, you can leave with your pride  still semi-intact (what kind of idiot drops all the maggots down the hole?), and you don’t look like a quitter.  So go ahead, gather up the rods, dogs, kids, snacks, Old Crow, and your hut, and hit the road with your head held high for a job well done.



I hope you find these tips useful and inspiring for your future angling endeavors.    Spring will be here soon (three or four months goes by so fast!), so get out there and catch some fish while you still can.  Have a fantastic and safe rest of your Montana winter.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Our Real History


By Hal Herring 

“For once the battle is lost, once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted…”  Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Great Society, Speech delivered 22 May 1964, Ann Arbor, MI

The cold winds blow, and the lakeshore, once so vibrant with life, is silent, the sand unmarked by the prints of bare feet. A strange sadness overtakes the nation and its arts- popular movies, books, television shows- are about disaster, or chronicles of seemingly normal people who spend their lives preparing for an unspecified collapse, hoarding guns, ammunition, bags of rice. Children sit passively, their eyes glued to screens, watching the increasingly boring creations of adults who themselves sit glued to screens at their work, battling depression under  fluorescent lights. An epidemic of obesity sweeps both young and old.  Seventy-five percent of American youth are unfit for military service, another unenviable and frightening record in a world replete with strife. The wealthiest citizens enjoy unprecedented access to excellent fishing, hunting, and the freedom of open spaces. For the vast majority though, the nation is becoming smaller, more urban dwellers with more traffic between them and the countryside, more electronic distractions, fewer outdoor places to exercise, to build physical skills, or to learn about the natural world.   We are being asked a profound question about who we are. 

In 2014, Congress will have the opportunity to re-authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and mandate that it be fully stocked to its intended $900 million per year. A quick history: The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, and it was created from a small portion of the royalties produced by oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf. It was allocated for $900 million per year (from total royalties that vary between $5 and $7 billion annually). The money was to be (and was) distributed to the states for projects focusing on everything from public tennis courts to protecting watersheds, national parks, wildlife and fisheries and other natural resources. LWCF would become one of the world’s greatest conservation success stories, a linchpin of a strategy not just to preserve natural beauty and resources, but to build an America where everyone would have access to the best of what our nation offers. The LWCF, like most of the American legacy of conservation, recently became a target of extremists in the US House of Representatives.

At any point in our history, we could have chosen to abandon our dream of a truly exceptional nation, to let the legion of naysayers, cynics, and scoffers prevail. It would have been so easy.  When the Gilded Age was roaring along, the small cabal of wealthy speculators setting us up for the Panic of 1873, then the much worse Panic of 1893, which was followed by four long years of dire economic depression, we could have shrugged and assumed that this was just the way it was.  The bison were gone, most of the elk, all the passenger pigeons. The plume hunters were exterminating the last of the exotic birds of the Florida wilderness. Judging by the history of the places from which we came- Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, this is what civilization meant- the destruction of the natural world, plutocracy masquerading as governance. 

Uniquely, we refused to view this wrongdoing as inevitable or permanent. This was the time of our most intense battles over the rights of labor, farmer’s revolts in the South and the Great Plains, and angry populist political “fusion” movements led by respected men like “The Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan.  Great wildlife conservation movements, almost all of them led by sportsmen, were born.  Instead of descending to anarchy, yielding to the temptations of tyranny, or settling for a nation that could not meet its grandest promises, we addressed our troubles at town halls and in Congress. The citizenry demanded solutions and put them to work.  
                
This is our real history, deliberately obscured by the sound and impotent fury of those determined to solve nothing and who thrive on the cotton candy of distraction.  

In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt introduced what he called “The Square Deal,” an agreement with the American people based on three principles: natural resource conservation, reining in the increasingly destructive corporate powers, and providing protection for consumers by regulating enterprises such as meatpacking or the rampant drug industries. Roosevelt used the limited power of government to do only what American citizens could not be expected to do for themselves- conserve critical natural resources on the large-scale, break up corporate monopolies that were perverting the free market, and ensure access to safer foods and more effective medicines. He was the first President to create a physical fitness test and standard for the US Marine Corps- ( http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/02/marines-female-fitness-pullups/4294313/) and perhaps the first to truly grasp and cultivate the connection between public lands and public spaces, the physical and mental health of the citizens, and their commitment to – and ability to fight for-  the nation. Roosevelt summed up his views more than once, as in these two short sentences delivered to the Deep Waterway Convention, Memphis, Tennessee, in 1907: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”

Those words must have seemed like prophecy thirty years later, as the dust blotted out the skies of the mid-West, the highways swarmed with hungry and destitute families, and the souplines in the cities stretched for blocks. It would fall to another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, and to the American people to rebuild the soils, recreate the American economy, and try to prevent such economic and ecological (the two words would be forever linked in the minds of anyone who survived the “Dirty Thirties”) catastrophes from recurring. The years 1933 and 1934 were the lowest points in several dismal measures- lowest point for American wildlife such as whitetail deer, wild turkeys and waterfowl, lowest point in the years of the Depression,  the beginning of the worst of the Dust Bowl years that would see 100 million acres of farm and rangeland almost ruined. It was a time for extraordinary remedies, and we found them, created them, put them to work.     

The American economic boom touched off by the end of the Second World War came at a tremendous environmental cost to our air and water, but it also empowered a huge middle class to buy boats and shotguns and fishing tackle and hiking boots and take to the mountains, lakes and rivers. The wildlife restorations begun in the 1930’s with such funding sources as the Pittman-Robertson taxes on firearms and ammunition were bearing fruit. Groups like Ducks Unlimited (established in 1937) were flourishing as  more sportsmen made the connection between conserved habitat and hunting opportunity. Sporting goods manufacturers were making a connection between their profits and those opportunities. Trout Unlimited was founded in 1959 on the Au Sable River in Michigan, by fishermen who knew they’d have to act on their own behalf to preserve the sport they loved and the beautiful waters that made it possible.

During the 1950’s and 60’s an outdoors people was discovering its outdoors on a grand scale.  The automobile provided the mobility to travel to the public lands, to visit the National Parks, to fish and hunt and travel. It was in essence, a renaissance – the frontier was long gone, but many of the traditions born there had survived, including fishing, hunting, camping, and the simple idea that being outside, active and healthy, was an essential part of American freedom.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, was a critical and pragmatic part of this renaissance. Like our early wildlife conservation laws, or the setting aside of public lands and creation of National Parks, LWCF was a pioneering and visionary act. In an address to Congress on February 8, 1965, President Johnson said, "Our conservation must be not just the classic conservation of protection and development, but a creative conservation of restoration and innovation. Its concern is not with nature alone, but with the total relation between man and the world around him. Its object is not just man's welfare but the dignity of man's spirit."  

An engaged citizenry, hunting and fishing public lands, running beside urban rivers on parklands bought with LWCF money, exploring swamps and mountain trails, witnessed firsthand the challenges posed by pollution and the potential pitfalls of a nation where too much land is off limits to the public. It was a classic formula for positive change - freedom fosters freedom. People who know what is at stake, who have been exposed to natural beauty and the healthy rigors of outdoor experience, will always demand that these resources and opportunities be protected.  Beginning about five years after the LWCF was created, the citizenry demanded, and got, a series of some of the world’s strongest federal environmental laws. From the Clean Air Act of 1970 through the Superfund Act of 1980, the US began to slowly reverse the worst of the air and water pollution in our country.  

The legislation worked so well that many people today seem to have no idea what it is, or what it was created to address.  Americans born at the tail end of the Baby Boom and after grew up with cleaner air and water than their parents experienced. They had more outdoor recreational opportunities. This was accomplished even with the tremendous surge in US population- from 191 million people in 1964 to 317.4 million today.  

Unlike most of that world, we turn on the tap in our homes and drink water that is safe. Air quality is still good in most regions. We swim in our rivers, eat fish from lakes and streams. 40 million of us hunt and fish.  Teenagers in isolated rural communities play tennis on public courts, or learn to swim in public pools, built with LWCF money in the 1980’s. In urban Los Angeles, a future  soccer star is learning to kick a ball downfield, in a park paid for by the LWCF. In a small Montana town, there’s a thriving fishing tackle shop and guide service that would not exist without the fishing access sites bought with LWCF money.   (for a list of LWCF projects across the US- http://www.lwcfcoalition.org/  )  

Americans have come to view such opportunities as their birthright, and to expect that they will always be there for us and our children.  

But there is no chance that these extraordinary luxuries can continue without the active involvement of the citizens who enjoy them. At a time when our population is expected to reach anywhere from 450- 500 million by 2050, the environmental laws, and programs like the LWCF, are under siege by the minions of a new breed of would-be plutocrats.  
  
These same minions lay siege to what has become a powerhouse outdoor recreation industry: 6.1 million jobs, $646 billion in outdoor recreation spending each year, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue, and $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue. http://www.outdoorindustry.org/pdf/OIA_OutdoorRecEconomyReport2012.pdf . They lay siege to a basic American idea, best said by Theodore Roosevelt in Chicago, 1912:  "This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in."

It has been said that America is the only nation where educated men and women who would not for one week let their children breathe the air of Beijing or drink the water of Mumbai, lobby relentlessly to get rid of the very laws that prevent such pollution from being the norm here. There are tens of millions of Americans who enjoy clean air, water, the LWCF-funded parks and public lands and the world’s best public hunting and fishing and seem to have no idea why they have these things, when so much of the rest of the world does not. That is exactly why, in July of 2013, the US. House of Representatives Interior Appropriations Subcommittee felt that there would be no uproar from the public when they voted to zero out the budgets for:

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
Forest Legacy (FLP)
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)
Cooperative Endangered Species Program (Section 6) land acquisition
State and Tribal Wildlife Grants (SWG)
Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program
Landscape Conservation Cooperatives


That same obliviousness among most citizens is why the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been raided, year after year by unscrupulous elected representatives, so that in most years, even as offshore production revenues soared and coffers were full, over 70% of the LWCF has been stolen. Those who took these funds (to date, $17 billion has been taken) were sure that the citizens would never notice- it’s difficult, after all, to prove a negative, the sick children who would have been well had they had a park to play in, the floods and water pollution that occurred because there was no money to purchase greenbelts along the urban creeks, the sporting goods that were never sold to the people who never had a place to use them. The inmate who could have been a fisheries biologist or the military career that never happened because the teenager did not know how to swim and could not run a mile. http://cdn.missionreadiness.org/MR_Too_Fat_to_Fight-1.pdf

While too many of us – especially the hunters and fishermen with the most at stake- remain unaware, there is a growing constituency of Americans who understand the importance of the LWCF.  Among them, Montana Senator Max Baucus (recently appointed US ambassador to China) and the 38 of his colleagues who so-sponsored Senate 338, the bill that will reauthorize LWCF, mandate that it be funded to its full $900 million extent and make sure those funds are never again looted. Among those colleagues is Montana Senator Jon Tester, who has long been a champion of the LWCF, seen here with Randy Newberg, the host of the sportsmen’s show Own your Own Adventures, in one of the best short discussions of this issue:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3deF60icto&feature=share  Senator Tester is also sponsoring a bill called the Making Public Lands Public Act (S.901), that would allow 1.5% of a re-authorized LWCF to be used to create access to what a recent study shows is over 4 million acres of public land that is currently off limits due to being blocked by private land, scattered across six Western states. http://westernpriorities.org/2013/11/25/new-report-landlocked-measuring-public-land-access-in-the-west/   

One of the most powerful advocates is the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, comprised of nearly one thousand conservation groups, businesses and sportsmen’s groups, ranging from the Annapolis Bicycle Racing Team to the World Wildlife Fund and beyond. http://www.lwcfcoalition.org/about-us.html
Among those diverse interests is LWCF Coalition member and veteran Mark Starr, Program Director of the Veteran’s Voice. For Starr, support of the LWCF is part of a very personal mission: “We get veterans outdoors and expose them to the healing qualities of nature, and we work to protect the natural landscapes that we use and love. This is as much an urban issue as it is anything else. I live in the concrete bunker of Los Angeles, and LWCF has paid for ball fields, swimming pools, parks, none of which would be available to the people here without that funding. We bring the issue of the LWCF to the table every single time we meet with lawmakers.” In a recent blog post, Starr wrote about the difficulty so many soldiers have in readjusting to civilian life, “Many veterans find healing during this transition by spending time in the outdoors fishing, hiking, hunting and camping with family and friends. That's why it's personally important for me and many veterans that we protect public lands in our state and our nation. These are the lands that we fought to defend. They represent the great majesty of our country and the boundless opportunity of the American dream.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-starr/  

Bill Sells, of the Maryland-based trade group the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, says that the debate over healthcare has broadened the support and understanding of the need for the LWCF, in ways that should have been obvious, but were not.  “What the debate brought to light was the true cost of a sedentary nation, paying for these entirely preventable illnesses, for people’s entire lives. No nation can afford that. And we know that the best way to address these costs is for people to just be active.  That’s how we get healthier.” To be active, Sells says, people need access to open spaces and public lands and outdoor infrastructure, “and the LWCF is a major component of that. That was the intention behind the LWCF in the beginning, and we need it more than ever now.”

We have always faced extraordinary questions. Consistently, we have answered them with extraordinary engagement. Not for us, we have said, the concrete slums crowded with hungry children, the rivers awash with trash, the abandonment of hunting and fishing and its attendant freedoms and knowledge of the true value of the earth.  Not for us, extremism, plutocracy, stupidity, illness.  Societal and economic collapse makes excellent fodder for movies and books, but it’s a poor place to track elk or teach children to climb trees and swim rivers. We know the answers to the questions this time, too: healthy public lands and spaces, clean air, water and wildlife and fish, room to explore and to learn the nature of the gifts we’ve been given. If we are as engaged as those Americans who came before us, we’ll meet our challenges as they met theirs.