Friday, September 28, 2012

More Hunters and Anglers? Yes Please!



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s preliminary hunting and fishing numbers show that over the past five years there were nine percent more hunters and 11 percent more anglers throughout the nation. These increases are proof that sportsmen recruitment and access efforts are working!

The survey also found that more than 37 million hunters and anglers spent $90 billion last year nationwide. That number doesn’t include secondary economic boosts like the creation of new hunting or fishing-related jobs. It is clear that this sustainable, non-exportable industry provides great value during tough economic times.

The uptick is particularly welcome news for our nation’s state wildlife agencies. The agencies responsible for maintaining healthy populations of fish and wildlife as a public trust for all of us get the vast majority of their funding from hunting and fishing license fees. Additionally, sportsmen and women had the foresight to fund conservation through excise taxes on the guns, ammunition, bows, arrows and fishing equipment we use.

One of the National Wildlife Federation’s first achievements was the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937. This established the first excise taxes to be collected into the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund and distributed to states. Since its inception, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund has provided more than $14 billion to support fish and wildlife restoration and management.
Another number to note from the survey is the increase in wildlife watching. Last year 72 million Americans engaged in wildlife watching, contributing $55 billion to our nation’s economy. One big difference between the hunting/angling and wildlife watching communities is that wildlife watchers have not yet taxed their gear to contribute to conservation and don’t pay license fees. Attempts have been made to place excise taxes similar to those on guns and ammo on items like binoculars, cameras, backpacks—to no avail. I have high hopes in the American people that these efforts are not over.

For the Montana, the increased numbers of hunters and anglers across the country is good news for a different reason. I am hopeful that the more people who connect with the natural world—be it through hunting and fishing or through wildlife watching—the more advocates there will be for conserving our natural resources, including the great American landscaps like the Rocky Mountain Front, and the Mississippi River Delta.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Elkonomics



A story came out a few days ago regarding the hunting economy of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest[B1] . Here's the funny thing about all those public critters on public land: the hunting economy grew. The hunting economy bucked the national average, and the communities around the B-D grew, not at a rapid pace, but at a slow, sustainable rate. In 2006, hunter expenditures were right around $26.3 million.
In 2011, hunter expenditures topped $31.8 million. That’s an almost 25% increase in hunter expenditures. That’s money in the bank. It’s also why we need bills like the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. [B2] 

That’s when I heard it: Elkonomics

Public lands, and the public ownership of wildlife, the businesses that revolve around abundant elk populations and healthy habitats, the private lands – it all combines to define Elkonomics. That sounds  like something we can point to while looking  folks in the eye and letting them know that public lands mean sustainable, annually renewable economies, but  only if we  use our resources wisely when it comes to public land management. It shows that we can have sustainable outfitting, livestock grazing, and provide plenty of opportunity for hunters.

Elkonomics.

For the longest time, folks were worried about discussing economics when it came to wildlife management. The fear being that the discussion would sully the purity of the movement. I don’t disagree with them. In a perfect world, there would be no politics, and no pressure on wildlife. We’d all be fat and sassy on elk steaks during the winters; we’d be lean and strong by fall to pack the bull down the mountain.

In the real world, money matters. It’s therefore important to be able to show people how conservation actually increases the bottom line. That is where public lands come in. Public Lands are the great equalizer when it comes to hunting opportunity. Theodore Roosevelt knew this was the case when he protected over 230,000,000 acres of what is now the public land system.

Our forests are the groceries that elk need to thrive. Without good habitat, elk are more susceptible to wolves and other predators. Without proper forage, elk reproduce at lower rates. It’s simple: Our forests need some help;. FJRA gives it that help.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Game Gets Big Love


I love getting emails with good news. Senator Jon Tester sent out a note yesterday that his Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is likely to come up for a vote next week. That’s fantastic news if you hunt and fish and want Congress to actually do something productive instead of argue about who gets to sit at what table while the U.S. lists crazily along.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is a conglomeration of about 20 bills that focus on important issues that Sportsmen and Sportswomen in the United States face today.

The bill that are included in the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 enjoy broad support from within the hunting and angling community and is supported by Ducks Unlimited, the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Boone and Crockett. Pieces of it have already passed either the House or the Senate independently, but packaged together, the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 does more to increase access to public lands, conserve critical wildlife habitat, and reauthorize conservation funding than anything Congress has done in a long, long while.

According to the materials sent out, here’s the list of provisions encapsulated under the Senator's big banner:

 Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Access

 Making Public Lands Public Act: This section requires that the 1.5% of annual LWCF funding is made available to secure, through rights-of-way, or the acquisition of lands, or interests from willing sellers, recreational public access to existing federal public lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes. Access is the number one issue for Sportsmen. Finding places to recreate and the loss of access are the top reason sportsmen stop hunting and fishing. In an agency report to Congress (in 2003) found 35 million acres of public land had inadequate access.

Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act: This section amends the Pittman-Robertson Act by adjusting the funding limitations. This allows states more funds available for a longer period of time for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges. The bill encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges.
Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act: This bill allows for the Secretary to authorize permits for re-importation of legally harvested Polar Bears from approved populations in Canada before the 2008 ban.

The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act: This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle. The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011. This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle. This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations.

Bows Transported through National Parks: This provision clarifies the 2007 legislation, and will allow bows to be transported across national park lands. Currently, firearms can be legally transported, but not bows. This poses a practical problem for bow hunters who want to legally hunt on Forest Service or BLM lands, but must cross National Park Service Lands.

Billfish Conservation Act: This section prohibits the sale of Pacific-caught billfish, except in the State of Hawaii, in order to respect traditional fisheries. Billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) populations have declined severely due to overfishing by non-U.S. commercial fishing fleets who harvest billfish as by-catch while targeting other species. More than two decades ago, the United States banned the commercial sale and harvest of Atlantic-caught billfish. Catch-and-release recreational angling for billfish generates many millions of dollars in economic benefits to the U.S. economy each year.

Report on Artificial Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico: This section requires report on the Idle Iron program in order to develop more coordination between agencies and states. This will assure that the interests of recreational fishermen are incorporated into the program.

Habitat Conservation

National Fish Habitat Conservation Act: This section creates a national voluntary grant program to protect and improve fish habitat by improving water quality and quantity across the nation. This section builds on current partnerships to restore waterways and provides an organic statue to authorize the work that the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently performing into one program with an advisory board.

Migratory Bird Habitat Investment and Enhancement Act: This section amends the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act so that the Secretary of the Interior, beginning in 2013 for three year periods, can set the amount to be collected for Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps. It will require the Postal Service to collect the amount established by the Secretary for each Stamp that is sold for a hunting year.

Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act: This section would grant the Secretary of the Interior permanent authority to authorize any state to issue electronic duck stamps. It also outlines electronic duck stamp application requirements.

Joint Ventures Authorization: This section creates an organic statute for the Joint Ventures program housed in the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Joint Venture program was established within the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987. This language allows FWS to provide financial and technical assistance to support regional migratory bird conservation partnerships, develop and implement plans for the protection and enhancement of migratory bird populations to support migratory bird conservation.

Reauthorizations

North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (NAWCA): This section reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for another five years. NAWCA is a voluntary land-owner friendly initiative that uses incentives to provide valuable matching grants that leverage federal dollars to protect habitat that is critically important for migratory birds, such as ducks and other wildlife. Over the last 20 years, NAWCA has completed over 2,000 conservation project to protect 26.5 million acres of habitat. This voluntary program has over 4,500 partners and has leveraged nearly 3 dollars for every dollar spent by the federal government.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife: This provides provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program through 2017. This program works in a non-regulatory, cooperative fashion to help private landowners with habitat restoration on their property. This cost-share program focuses on improving wetland, riparian, in-stream, fish passage, sage-steppe, grassland and aquatic habitats that provide benefits to migratory birds, threatened or endangered species, and other sensitive and declining species.

Neotropical Migratory Birds Reauthorization: This extends the authorization for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act which allows for voluntary conservation of critical bird habitat with 28 Projects in 26 Countries in 2012. This program leverages four dollars of matching funds for each dollar spent by the federal government.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization: This section reauthorizes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a non-profit that preserves and restores our nation’s native wildlife species and habitats. Created by Congress in 1984, NFWF directs public conservation dollars to the most pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private funds. Since its establishment, NFWF has awarded over 11,600 grants to more than 4,000 organizations in the United States, investing a total of $2 billion for conservation.

Multinational Species Conservation Fund Reauthorization: Section reauthorizes appropriations to carry out the African Elephant Conservation Act, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997, The Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2003 and the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000 for FY2012-FY2017. This will also allow for a five year extension on the corresponding postal stamps.

Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act: This section would amend the Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Act of 2010 to require such stamps to be available for an additional four years; and provide five versions depicting African or Asian elephants, a rhinoceros, a tiger, a marine turtle or a great ape.

Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization (FTFLA): This section reauthorizes the BLM’s authority to sell land to private land owners, counties, companies and others for ranching, community development and various projects. This “Land for Land” approach creates jobs and generates funding for BLM, USFS, NPS and USFWS to acquire critical in-holdings from willing sellers. The sales revenue allows agencies to acquire high priority lands with important wildlife habitat value and recreational access for hunting and fishing.

Nutria Eradication and Control Act: This section would amend the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2003


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Scorcher in January


I made a huge mistake today. I checked the Montana Legislature website to see what bills were coming. Sometimes I think ignorance is bliss. Then I remember what happened last year when the Legislature unleashed war on Montana’s wildlife, hunters and anglers. Over 100 bills that dealt directly with wildlife issues were introduced. Most of them were detrimental to you and I, and our opportunity to hunt and fish. Bills related to wildlife outnumbered every other category including education, taxation and health care. 

Pursued by folks with personal agendas, we fought back bills that would have erased our ability to participate in wildlife management decisions in favor of putting economics ahead of science and opportunity, bills that would have made delisting of wolves impossible, even under the Simpson/Tester delisting rider, bills that would have stripped funding for access programs, and bills that would have eliminated the authority of the FWP Commission to make reasonable restrictions on that opportunity after a democratic and public process.

This coming legislative session looks to be no different. Already there are bills stacked up to monkey with wolf management, to eliminate FWP’s ability to manage wildlife, never allow bison to be transplanted anywhere and the biggie: The joint interim Environmental Quality Council is pushing forward a bill to strip Parks out of FWP.

Now, I’m not opposed to this idea, but the devil is in the details. Funding sources for Parks have become intertwined with the Wildlife side. The Land and Water Conservation Fund monies are perhaps the most important. Fishjing Access Sites, Wildlife Management Areas and other FWP funded programs are tied to LWCF monies. It would be a shame to lose that funding source for yet another paved over, wifi friendly state park where you sit in an RV and watch Netflix while some tourons sit around their fake campfire, eating pre-made s’mores.

I look at places like the Marias River WMA, Fish Creek and the Marshall Block and thank FWP everyday for having the vision and foresight to procure those properties. Wild country is in short supply. In order to grow more elk, we need more wild country. It’s pretty danged simple, no? 

Out of the bills already lined up for whack-a-mole, only a few seem to have redeeming qualities. Friend of the Pulpit, Kendall Van Dyk is making another attempt at his Hunters for the Hungry Bill. This bill would set up a donation on your license so that hunters not only could donate their kill to a local food bank, but we could also gather the funds necessary to process that meat. The bill died last year after clearing the Senate. One prominent legislator said that “I don’t think the state should be in the business of charity.” That kind of short-sighted thinking doesn't serve Montanans at all.

The 63rd Montana Legislature is going to be worse than the 62nd. I’ve had some of the folks who tried to eliminate the FWP Commision’s authority already tell me that. Based off of the bill draft requests, we’ll be fighting the same fights when it comes to Limited Entry Permits for Archery hunters in the Breaks (the third session in a row that outfitters and anti-access advocates have tried to privatize wildlife), rumors of a new Ditch Bill are circulating, and it’s also looking like a Ranching for Wildlife Bill (privatization of wildlife) will be moving forward.

Montanan’s made a commitment to wildlife over 100 years ago. That commitment was to habitat, conservation, and abundant wildlife. The net result is some of the longest seasons for big game in the lower 48. That success is being eyed greedily by those who profit ahead of all else.

It’s time to re-up with the groups who stand up for the average hunter and angler. Hellgate Hunters and Anglers is always active in the legislature, but we rely on groups like the Montana Wildlife Federation who fields two lobbyists and an army of dedicated public land hunters, to keep us informed. Without their work, we won’t have the real time updates that we’re always looking for. A membership is $35. That’s less than a dozen arrows, or a box of 300 WSM. Pony up folks. Let’s keep our wildlife and our opportunity abundant.