Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Alabama Slammer

By Land Tawney and Ben Lamb

This bill has had overwhelming support through each stage of the process, most recently receiving a supportive bi-partisan vote of 92-5 right before the Thanksgiving break.  This latest vote against hunters and anglers demonstrates why the American public is sick of the Washington DC antics that waste time and taxpayer dollars.  One Senator that voted against the bill before the break, Jeff Sessions(R-AL), somehow convinced his caucus to vote against 90 million sportsmen and women and the $70 billion annual contribution they make to America’s economy.  The bill was supported by more than 50 sportsmen’s groups including the NRA, Ducks Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and National Wildlife Federation.  

Senator Sessions opposed the bill on the technicality that it violated budget rules by increasing the cost of the duck stamp, despite the fact that the bill would reduce the deficit.
We've talked about the expansive and monumental Sportsman’s Act of 2012 for a while now; it includes provisions that would allow the importation of legally harvested Polar Bears from Canada, the Making Public Lands Public Act (directing a portion of Land and Water Conservation Funding dollars to increasing access), re-authorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and a modest increase to the price of the Duck Stamp. 

Here’s the real problem that Senator Jeff Sessions has with the most important Sportsmen’s Legislation of our time: The NRA had made it clear that they would score the final Senate vote and not the procedural vote on the budget point of order.  Senator Sessions was endorsed by the NRA in his last election in 2008 with an A+ rating.  He has an election coming up in 2014 and knows how important the NRA’s endorsement is in sending him back to Washington.  

By organizing his caucus around the procedural vote Sen. Sessions avoided a dip in his rating.  He claims that its congresses right to tax the American people, and because of the way the bill is written, that authority would be handed over to the Secretary of the Interior, while violating the budget rules that Congress operates under.  

When you pick yourself up from the floor and stop laughing at the thought of Congress having rules that they abide by, I’ll continue.

Right, so we've seen how well Congress plays together. The entire sportsmen community was caught off guard by last night’s vote, and is now regrouping to see what’s next.  One thing that is for sure is that Senator Tester will continue to fight. Right after the vote Tester said, “I’m disappointed Republicans and Democrats couldn't work together today to pass this bipartisan bill.  Protecting our outdoor economy shouldn't be a partisan issue.  This bill will create jobs and strengthen our small businesses, and I will continue pressing to get it through the Senate on behalf of every sportsman and women around the country.” Congress’ duty should only be that of oversight. Not of micro-management.

Sessions also bemoans the cost of the bill, saying that the $145 million that the bill would raise in revenue would be needlessly frittered away on stupid things like habitat.  The bill in fact pays down the deficit by $5 million: chump change to insiders like Sessions who make billion dollar deals over breakfast, but enough of a political opening to exact revenge on a Senator who just won re-election.

Sessions forgets his history: Sportsmen first imposed a tax, if we use that vernacular, on themselves in 1934 with passage of the Duck Stamp.  Once again it is sportsmen who are asking for the increase.  Why?  Because every dollar spent on the “Duck Stamp” which gives hunters the ability to hunt waterfowl, is spent on habitat protection through the National Wildlife Refuge system.  Waterfowlers understand that habitat is the key to robust populations of ducks and geese and are more than willing to pay for their conservation.  Mr. Sessions should be ashamed of himself.  During his speech on the Senate floor, he talked about how he knew duck hunters in his own state loved the bill but that he had to vote against the bill on principle. “Should we violate the Budget Control Act for a mere $14 million a year?” 

Sessions asked in floor remarks Monday. “I don’t think the average duck hunter would be concerned if we slowed down a little bit and sent this bill back to committee and had it paid for so we didn’t violate the budget.” Mr. Sessions Ducks Unlimited, the largest concentration of Duck Hunters in the world supports the bill and asked for this particular provision.
The National Rifle Association and the Wilderness Society agreed that the bill was important enough that they put the guns down and worked together to try and pass legislation.

Only in Washington DC is that kind of American idealism not rewarded. Call Senator Sessions now, and give him a piece of your mind. You can reach him at (202)224-4124 or email

You can also show  your support of the Sportsman’s Act on The Bully Pulpit’s Facebook page by posting a message encouraging Seantor Tester to continue this fight (and make sure you tag him!), or email his staff

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Tag

Ive watched the sun come up over hay fields, coulees, mountains and river bottoms. I chased deer for two weeks, passing up bucks nobody in their right mind would have passed up, even on the first day of the season. I didnt want it to end.

The smell of sage, frost on the rifle, coyotes walking by at 20 feet as I sit behind the ancient  cottonwood that created a natural blind and the massive 10 year old double patched whitetail 200 yards and 400 vertical feet across the coulee all remain in my memory far beyond the meat that is now in our freezer.

The season started out with promise and hope as all do. I didnt connect on an elk, and given the travel we have to engage in for the Holiday weekend, its unlikely that Ill get out and chase them again this year. I notched my tag five times on whitetail. Big, fat laden does and the anti-climactic end of the year: A spike buck. He busted out of cover, following a large bodied buck whose antlers I couldnt see. When I saw the spike I committed the cardinal sin: I didnt wait one last second. A 225 yard shot later, we walked up to what I thought was the big doe, and got that sinking feeling as I saw the little fork, and 5 inch long spike.
That little buck, it turns out, was a gift. Because I shot that little guy, I was able to be with a good friend who took the largest buck hed ever shot; a nice wide 4 point whitetail that made the mistake of covering ground during shooting light. I was with another friend who shot his first deer, ever. Hes recently moved to Montana and grew up in an urban environment but couldnt stand the thought of his boys growing up without wild country. After he shot his deer, we went fishing and stuck a number of large browns and rainbows. A real Cast and Blast.

We hunted both public and private ground this year. Both offered up multiple opportunities to harvest wildlife for the larder. The public land sticks out most in my memory as its a recent addition to the State of Montanas Wildlife Management Areas. These WMAs are part of Montanas wildlife legacy. The wisdom of their purchases can be seen for decades after their acquisition.

Places like the Sun River Wildlife Management Area, Robb Ledford, WMA, Spotted Dog and the Marshall Block continue to show us that proper conservation of the land means bountiful opportunity.

As the FWP Commission considers adding one more Wildlife Management Area to the fold, controversy surrounds it. Just like every other one before it. The Legislature will surely use this to try and eliminate FWPs ability to purchase land, just like last session when they came unhinged at Spotted Dog and Fish Creek.

I am thankful that I live in a state that values habitat conservation over heavy handed management through reduced opportunity. Montana puts its wildlife and the opportunity of every one of us to harvest that wildlife above the desire to turn a buck over antlered critters.

Governor-elect Steve Bullock has a big job ahead of him when it comes to nominating new FWP Commissioners, agency heads for Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as well as policy staff. Were headed into a new legislative session that will once again prove to test the mettle and ferocity of those who defend the legacy that Theodore Roosevelt gave us. Dark clouds in Washington continue to threaten the wild country we love, as well as the funding streams we need in order to keep ducks in the sky, and bulls in the Mountains.

But for now, I am thankful, and content. Well grill the first backstraps on Thursday. Ive still got my wolf tag and a December in the mountains to fill that. Ive got trout rising to midges on warm winter days.

 Ive got Montana, and for that, I am thankful.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


We all cringe at the words: Congress is back in session.

However, today we’re pretty excited. Senator Tester’s Sportsman’s Act of 2012 is coming up for a cloture vote today. That means that the Senate will vote to move the bill forward. It requires 60 votes to push the bill onward to the House of Representatives and ultimately, to the President.

We’ve written extensively about the bill[B1] , so we’ll not go through all of the provisions. But one should be highlighted: The Keeping Public Lands Public component. Introduced as a standalone bill in 2011 by Senator Tester, the KPLPA would permanently dedicate 1.5% of all Land and Water Conservation Fund monies to securing access to public lands.

How could anyone be against that?

The bill received 84 votes in support before Congress adjourned to let us all watch all of those great commercials and then go vote. 84 out of 100 Senators said that this was good enough to pick it back up after the election.

Well buddy, here we are. On the eve of a vote that we hope will show America that Montanan’s know how to get it done. Senator Tester has worked tirelessly to reach across the aisle and generate support from over 40 conservation, hunting, angling and gun rights organizations.

The question then remains, will congress do something worthwhile, or just keep whistling past the graveyard.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Public Lands in Public Hands

In a few short hours, I’ll point the truck north and head up to the highline for a week of chasing gnarly old whitetails and a few monster muleys. If I’m lucky and find a deer willing to take a bullet, I’ll point the truck west and start seriously looking for an elk to fill the freezer and a wolf for the mantle. I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.

But I also feel like a kid who’s toys are about to be stolen. In two recent developments, Stream Access has returned to the forefront of the news and our minds. In Virginia, a court found that a fly fisherman fishing well below the high water mark was found to be trespassing. Highlighted in this Orvis blog[B1] , the case shows that some folks with enough money will stop at nothing to throw the citizens off of their public resource.  The image of a lone angler fighting for the right to utilize a public resource should sicken all of us. If this happened in Montana, do we think this guy would have only had a lawyer by his side?

Remember 2011, when over 500 of us showed up to kill the ditch bill? I do. It was something that I’d never seen in over a decade of advocating for hunters, anglers and wildlife. I don’t know if we can repeat that effort in a few short months, when the Legislature returns. I hope so. Because the same attacks on our access that we saw in 2011 have been smoldering underground during the off season will be coming back next session. Recently, two groups, the United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM) and the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) have joined in on the side of James Cox Kennedy in trying to overturn Montana’s Stream Access law[B2] . These same groups advocated for HB 309 during the last legislature, and these same groups have been trying to undermine the public ownership of wildlife for quite a while now, essentially trying to turn America into Europe when it comes to hunting and fishing.

In fact, out of the 110 plus bills we fought in 2011, UPOM was regularly on the side that was seeking to eliminate your voice in wildlife management, eliminate funding for access programs, and even stood with those who wanted to kill the Wolf Management plan that led to our ability to manage wolves.

I think everybody respects private property rights. I know I do. But I also know that what’s public is public, and it needs to stay that way. Not just for my ability to hunt and fish, but for the $3 billion economic engine that Montana has based on the democratic allocation of the wildlife resource and public lands. Access to public lands and water will always be contentious so long as people with hidden agendas try to obfuscate the reality of what public ownership of wildlife means.

Much like our staunch defense of the second amendment, fighting for access is something that most Montanans are born with. So much of our lives are spent on public ground that we consider it ours. Because it is our land, our water and most importantly: Our wildlife.

It’s not socialism, as some folks think. It’s the most democratic enterprise that this nation has ever invested in. Without public lands, and access to them, we might as well buy some lederhosen and try to figure out how to shoot running boar while spending tens of thousands of dollars to do so. Public lands are the great equalizer, providing the opportunity to harvest game to everyone.

I’ll take that over the lederhosen every day.