Friday, March 30, 2012

Get in the Arena

Apparently, folks in DC and in state feel like there’s too much access for public land, hunters and anglers. Or perhaps they feel like public lands, like public hunting and fishing, is socialism, and should be doled out to the highest bidder. Representative Paul Ryan, the powerful chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, just pushed through a budget that refused to tackle over $40 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, which continue to yield record profits. Now, we’re not against profits, or oil and gas development, but maybe we could get an amendment into the Ryan budget that would call for drug testing on all subsidy recipients, just like some folks want welfare recipients to submit to drug testing in order to buy food or keep a roof over their head. After all, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, right?

Either way, hunters and anglers lose in this latest round of poorly thought out proposals to sell off your public land.

In Montana during the last legislative session, hunters and anglers killed a bill that would have tried to force the feds to divest itself of all public lands that were not national parks or military instillations. Utah just passed a law similar to that. Colorado just had a bill introduced in their legislature that would do the same thing as the Utah bill.

Remember Richard Pombo? The Big Dick of California tried to ram a public land sale down the throats of America’s hunting public a few years ago…sportsmen and women stood up and fought back.

The take away here for any politician who thinks that public lands are little blocks on a map and of no value (Remember Mitt Romney? He has no idea what public lands are for), is that they will face stiff opposition from the average hunter and angler who relies on public lands to hunt, fish and recreate.

Public lands are often cited as vital for our economic engines in Montana. Surely our $2 billion plus outdoor economy would suffer if these urban congressmen get their way. Most assuredly, the livestock industry would suffer since they wouldn’t get grazing allotments at cut-rate prices (A producer pays $1.35 per AUM – that’s for a cow and a calf to graze for one month). These don’t even count the millions of bucks coming in for recreation from snowmobilers, hikers, skiers and others who rely on public lands not only for their recreation, but their jobs.

Public lands are also where the vast majority of wildlife is harvested. FWP estimate that 70% of all animals harvested in Montana come from public lands. That’s your opportunity that is being put on the auction block so that more land can be locked up, developed and denuded of hunters and anglers.

This is grossly disturbing. The fact that the majority of candidates for the presidency have such little connection with public lands, or with wild places at all, is shocking. Especially when we consider this is the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech.

TR fought like hell to make sure that the people of America would always have public lands to hunt, fish, and find jobs. To see so many back away from this truly democratic notion should have all of us up in arms.

Fight back! Fight for your right to hunt and fish. Fight for your public lands!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bird Habitat tied to Access, now that just makes sense!

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announced two programs for landowners in 19 counties aimed at increasing public hunting access and enhancing the quality of upland game bird habitat.

Landowners must choose which program best suits their needs.

"FWP wants to ensure producers are aware of the opportunities, but it is up to them to select the opportunity that best fits their situation," said Debbie Hohler, Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program Biologist.

The "Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters" is a pilot program that pays landowners rent for lands they open to public game bird hunting. The funds, appropriated under the 2008 federal Farm Bill program, are targeted for productive game bird habitat enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program or the Missouri-Madison River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the Montana counties of: Broadwater, Cascade, Choteau, Daniels, Dawson, Fallon, Fergus, Gallatin, Glacier, Lewis and Clark, Madison, McCone, Pondera, Richland, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Teton, Toole, and Wibaux.

Participating landowners receive a one-time lump sum of $5 per acre each year the land is enrolled in the program. Enrolled lands must be clearly posted for walk-in game bird hunting. Because this program is intended to expand areas open to the public for game bird hunting, lands that are already enrolled in FWP's Block Management Program or the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program do not qualify.

A second program enables FWP to share the cost of two Conservation Practice seed mixes through the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program. Producers who plant CP 25 seed mixes qualify for a cost-share of up to $16 an acre. CP2 seed mixes can receive cost-share up to $14 per acre. Eligible counties for seed cost-share are: Cascade, Choteau, Daniels, Dawson, Fallon, Fergus, Glacier, McCone, Pondera, Richland, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Teton, Toole, and Wibaux. Producers may enroll up to 640 acres.

For more information on the seed mix cost-share program and an application, go to the FWP website and search for: "Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program." There is no deadline to apply.

For more information and an application for the "Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters" program, go to click "For Fish & Wildlife Information" on the home page. Applications for the "Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters" program must be post-marked no later than April 20.

Send applications to: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks - Wildlife Division; Attention: Upland Game Bird Habitat Enhancement Program; P.O. Box 200701; Helena, MT 59620.

For details, contact Debbie Hohler at: 406-444-5674, or by e-mail:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

As Ice Cube says, “It was a good day.”

Every once in a while things come together in just the right way and my faith is renewed in Congress. Passage of the transportation bill out of the US Senate yesterday, was one of those rare bipartisan times where Senators from both sides of the aisle came together and agreed on what’s important for this great country of ours. The transportation bill passed 74-22 with both Montana Senators voting for the measure, joining 22 republicans and all democrats. It doesn’t get much more bi-partisan than that.

Contained within the transportation bill was an amendment that for anyone who hunts or fishes was nothing short of monumental. This amendment coupled substantial funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund with restoration dollars for the Gulf of Mexico. The LWCF provision provides for $700 million over the next two years and reauthorizes the Fund until 2022. This means large scale conservation in places like the Blackfoot valley, Rocky Mountain Front, and Tender Foot Creek (a tributary to the Smith River) will not only be insured but also provide access for the average sportsmen and women, thus perpetuating our outdoor heritage that is the very fabric of who we are in Montana. In addition to large-scale conservation the Fund also can be used to acquire fishing access sites. Almost every fishing access site in Montana was paid in part by the Fund. To say the least, the Fund is vital to Montana. $1.4 billion dollars for the Fund would be outstanding in its own right but the amendment didn’t stop there. The amendment also dedicated 80% of the Clean Water Act penalties associated with the BP oil spill back to gulf coast restoration. With out this provision, those fines would have not gone back to make the gulf whole again but instead would have vanished into the US Treasury for who knows what. It just makes sense for those fines to go back to where the impacts of the largest oil spill in US history happened. What happens down south, especially in Louisiana is important to Montana sportsmen and women. Over 10 million waterfowl winter in the marshes of Louisiana, that’s 70% of the Central and Mississippi River flyways, ducks and geese from Montana. That says nothing of the fishing opportunities for redfish, and speckled trout, which are world class. This marsh has been disappearing at an alarming rate for over 70 years and the oil spill added insult to injury. Just like the Prairie Pothole Region in the north is vital to duck populations, we were losing their Motel 6 down south. Now we have the funding to make sure we keep the “lights on.”

The amendment itself passed 76-22, setting the tone for the bi-partisan nature of the bill. A total investment in conservation of $2.8 billion dollars is now one step closer to becoming a reality and supported by not only a vast majority of Montana hunters and anglers, but also 34 national hunting and fishing organizations.

The overwhelming support for this specific piece of the transportation bill is no accident. The conservation of our natural resources is uniquely American. In these tough economic times it’s time to double down on conservation, which provides non-exportable jobs, vital annual income, and preserves our way of life. Hunting and fishing in Montana generates over $1 billion to our states economy and when you add in other outdoor pursuits it jumps to $3 billion, that’s all-important sustainable funding we can count on far into the future.

While both Montana Senators voted for the measure, it wouldn’t have happened without Max Baucus. The amendment was originally offered to just address the Gulf. It had bi-partisan support with 9 republican gulf Senators but didn’t have enough votes to pass. It was Senator Baucus who had the idea to couple restoration for the gulf with the Land and Water Conservation Fund, thus expanding support for the measure. And pass it did. How often do you get conservative Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma and liberal Senator Franken from Minnesota to agree…in short, hardly ever. Thanks Max! As chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus is in a powerful position to broker deals just like this, this is why we continue to send him to Washington, not only to represent the good state of Montana, but to deliver the goods as well.

The transportation bill now heads to the House. Congressmen Rehberg, heed the advice of 22 of your Senate colleagues and makes sure that funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restoration of the Gulf Coast are maintained. Montana hunters and anglers ask for nothing less.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A cow pie by any other name...

Did you see this? Congressman Denny Rehberg issued a press release the other day that called the Montana Wildlife Federation, their over 7,000 members and 24 affiliated Rod and Gun Clubs “pretend hunters.”

MWF sent letters to the Congressman asking for a meeting, and they were told “we’ll get back to you.” After two months, nothing.Nada. Zip. No email back saying: “Gosh, we’re so sorry, but the Congressman doesn’t feel like a meeting would be productive,” or “Denny just can’t find time to squeeze you in right now, but let’s keep trying to get something set up.”

Instead, the Congressman released statements from groups like the Gun Owners of America, who said that if you want unbroken habitats, long seasons and common sense management of Forest Lands you’re a fake hunter and that, “ any real hunter would be happy to support” H.R. 1581.

By the way, Gun Owners of America are from Virginia. They’re a lobbying group. Not sure how much time they spend in Montana chasing elk, or fighting to restore herds. Not a lot of good elk country on the Eastern Seaboard, or in fancy office buildings. Funny that beltway insiders and politicians seem to know what’s best for Montana’s wildlife and hunters and anglers.

Another group that the Congressman uses is Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. Remember these guys? Their grand poobah, Don Peay, just came out calling public ownership of wildlife “socialism,” and that we need to revisit the concept that wildlife is a public resource.

SFW,by the way, was founded in Utah, where you’re lucky to hunt a mature bull elk once every twenty years, unless you can buy one of the over 400 welfare tags that SFW gets handed to them by the state every year.

So, we find it strange that the congressman would rather use out of state lobbyists and wildlife privateers to bolster his statement that “real” hunting groups support HR 1581. We don’t buy it. In fact, most Montanan’s and Montana sporting organizations oppose H.R. 1581. Heck, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation withdrew their support when they found out the details of the bill. Thats all we are asking, is for Denny to rethink his position.

We also find it strange that the Congressman refuses to sit down with Montana’s oldest, and largest organization of conservation minded hunters and anglers. MWF has been around for 76 years, fighting for access to our wildlife, streams and public lands. They’re not a fly-night group of guys and gals. Neither are the hundreds of other national and state sportsmen’s organizations who oppose this bill.

RMEF, MWF and other MONTANA groups think Rebherg's 1581 is bad for elk. Since when do politicians and lobbyists know what's best for Montana hunters?

Now is time to stand up and call BS on Rehberg's HR 1581
. Ask him to listen to Montana hunters and withdraw support for the anti-habitat, anti-hunting HR 1581.

C’mon Denny, be honest. Rather than attack a group of dedicated Montana hunters and anglers, why won’t you work collaboratively with MWF and the dozens of other groups that oppose this bill instead of getting beltway insiders to speak for you?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Road Warriors

If you live in the Helena area or follow the Montana Wildlife Federation on Facebook, you’ve been seeing some advertisements about H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Release Act. This bill would strip protections from roughly 5.3 million acres of critical wildlife habitat in Montana, and over 60 million acres nationwide.

MWF has a demonstrated track record going back to 2000 supporting Roadless Areas, and the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Their board of directors has frequently voted unanimously to stand up and fight for elk and mule deer habitat by preserving what we have in terms of migration corridors and security habitat intact.

So what’s so bad about H.R. 1581? For one, it’s a top down decision made by lobbyists and politicians to address a non-existent problem. Proponents of the legislation claim that this is about access.

H.R. 1581 is not about access. It’s about removing the public from our public lands, and giving them over to those who put short term profits ahead of our hunting and angling legacy. Ninety percent of the lands affected by the legislation are within 2 miles of an existing road. Roadless areas are the places that we drive up to the edge of, park our rigs and hunt on foot. They are the accessible "middle ground" between wilderness like the Bob Marshall and the roaded front country, providing good wildlife habitat and great walk-in hunting for the average foot hunter who likes to get out for day hunts on the weekend. Furthermore, roadless areas are managed for multiple use, allowing firewood cutting, game carts, OHV riding on established trails, timber management to mitigate fire risk, habitat management for wildlife, and even oil and gas development on existing leases....the only thing the government can't do is build new roads.

Studies show that hunter success rates are higher in unroaded areas (25%) than in roaded areas (15%). (Gratson and Whitman, 2000); elk occur in greater densities in roadless areas compared to roaded areas. (Thiessen, 1976); higher road densities cause a reduction in the length and quality of the hunting season, loss of habitat, over harvest and population decline of elk. (Lyon and Vasile, 1980); and that one result of road construction is the decreased capacity of the habitat to support elk due to decreased habitat effectiveness. (Leptich and Zager, 1991)

Montanans have long said they wanted these areas unchanged. Over decades, there have been exhaustive processes both at the state and federal level that have reached the same conclusion…– the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule is the law of the land.
Any threat to roadless areas is a threat to hunting and fishing opportunity in Montana. Montana Wildlife Federation has been actively engaged in the fight to keep the roadless rule since the 1990s.

Unfortunately, beltway politics are now trying to trump existing conservation measures. Primarily, this is in the form of short-sighted, top-down legislation, H.R. 1581. This bill would eliminate protection on approximately 85% of all Inventoried Roadless Areas in Montana, about 5.5 million acres. It's a shame that a Montanan would put their name on this bill.

The science is clear: Roadless Areas help protect elk and nurture them. Montanans enjoy over-the-counter elk and deer tags and a chance for mature bulls and bucks because of secure habitat. In a time when elk and mule deer face serious problems from noxious weeds, bad legislation and increased pressure on winter range, loss of their habitat shouldn’t be one of them.

Roadless areas are also source of clean water that feed our blue ribbon trout streams. Even if you never set foot in a Roadless Areas, you benefit from them.
Some folks have pointed out that other bills would release Wilderness Study Areas. This is true. But those efforts started on the ground floor, and were tested with boot leather and horse sweat to determine if they truly should be wilderness, or released from further consideration.

The Montana Wildlife Federation has long believed that when we deal with forests in Montana, it should be the folks who live, work and play in those lands who determine the uses. H.R. 1581 takes away that trust that has been built within these existing collaborations, and puts us back to square one when dealing with appropriate uses in specific areas.

That’s a raw deal for Montana, and it’s a raw deal for hunters and anglers. If you’d like to learn more about the science behind Roadless Areas, visit their micro-site at