Thursday, December 19, 2013

Forest Jobs & recreation Passes Hurdle

Good news from DC today. Senator Jon Tester's Forest Jobs & Recreation Act passed out of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. That's good news for Montana and very good news if you're an elk in Region 3.

We've written before about the bill. The basics are this:

  • Improve elk and trout habitat by mandating the Forest Service roll up old roads that fragment otherwise secure elk habitat & remove old culverts and other bad ideas that stop fish passage. Both of these activities will increase abundance of wildlife of all species over the long term. 

  1. Increase the amount of people in the woods earning a paycheck through sustainable logging practices, forest restoration and saw logs for local mills based on boots on the ground that know the country and wildlife advocates who want to ensure a forest system full of elk, deer, bears & even squirrels. 

  • Add over 600,000 acres of Wilderness from Libby to Dillon protecting some our best high country fishing & elk hunting opportunities. Wilderness in Montana is only place you can hunt bull elk in the rut with a rifle on a general tag. Those backcountry hunts are the stuff of legends. New additions to the Wilderness complex just mean that kind of opportunity can be expanded, rather than retracted. That's a damn good thing. 

To be sure, critics will continue to call FJRA a sell out to one side or another depending on their bent. Controversy never fades when it comes to Forest Management, but the reality is this: Compromise, Collaboration & Common Sense are better ways to manage forests than protracted legal battles over small technicalities in the Federal Code. New wilderness is good for wildlife and hunters and anglers over public lands criss-crossed with illegal trails & roads, driving elk farther into the dark timber and creating silted, un-productive streams.

Every elk hunter knows that outside of the firing squads on valley floors, elk are far from the road. That's why we close roads before the general rifle season on public lands: Less motorized travel means better elk hunting.

And Forest Jobs & Recreation passing out of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee means better opportunities to hunt, fish & earn a paycheck so long as Congress can keep this momentum going. Well done, Senator Tester. Keep fighting.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Well Deserved Thanks

Congressman Steve Daines is stepping up to the Plate and has signed on to a "Dear Colleague" letter with other members of Congress, calling on the House Interior Appropriations Committee to support the re-authorization of the Land & Water Conservation Fund.

We heartily approve, and extend our sincere thanks for stepping up for public lands and public access.


Here's the letter:

Hands off My Land, Pilgrim

Public Land management has never been a walk in the park. Draconian budget cuts, disease, continuous lawsuits, wildfire, and the everyday disagreements that Americans have over how these lands that are owned by all of us are managed routinely make headlines not only in Montana, but across the West.

The latest fad from State Legislatures is to demand that the Federal Government turn over public land to the states so that they can increase short term economic development and reduce conservation regulations designed to ensure that multiple use actually means multiple use. Montana has been swept up in this resurgence of the old Sagebrush Rebellion.

During this last session, the Montana legislature, following the lead of states like Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, passed a resolution to look at federal land management, and while nobody is openly admitting it, taking the public out of our public lands.

Frustrated by litigation, the Endangered Species Act, lack of funding for land management agencies, drought, and wildfire and generally just upset that some lands exist without a road or well pad, some legislators believe that we need to assume control over the millions of acres of Federal Lands in Montana. While the rhetoric of “taking back our lands from the feds” plays into the libertarian streak we all have in Montana, transference of public lands to the state would have some very real, and very negative consequences for hunters, anglers and all who enjoy our great outdoors:

·         Camping: The state allows you to camp up to two days on State Trust Lands. That fight was hard won just a few short years ago. At one time, we couldn’t even camp on state land. Now, while restrictive in nature, we can finally camp on lands we pay taxes on. On Forest Service land, you can now camp up to 16 days in most areas, 14 days during the hunting season.

·         Fire: By transferring the lands from the Federal Government over to the State, the state would have to pay for the firefighting on those lands. In 2010, on the bitterroot National Forest alone, that was $80 million. In order to achieve the kind of money needed, taxes most likely would have to be raised on homeowners and quite possibly, our income taxes. It’s not much of reach to see the state of Montana spending billions of dollars in fighting fires, especially in the wildland-urban interface.

·         Weeds: As the climate changes and more invasive species like toadflax, spotted knapweed and other plants move in, choking out our native sedges, grasses and forbs, the cost to fight these plants skyrockets. Montana would have to pick up all of the costs of managing weeds. This price tag has yet to be determined, but there’s not one person who can sit back and think: “If only this field had more knapweed, then we’d have more elk.”

·         Short Term Gains that come from intensive oil and gas development and timber sales over long term profits that come from the sustainable management of public lands that leads to long seasons and increased wildlife abundance are touted as the best method of economic development: The State Trust Lands, so called because they are held in trust for the schools of Montana, are constitutionally mandated to garner the highest return for the state. That means often times that extractive uses are given priority over wildlife management, clean water and sensible extraction. While there is some debate as to how that economic model works for the long term, hunters know that often times, leased state ground can be unproductive when it comes to finding game on it if not managed properly. It’s also easier to close down state land to multiple use based on leasing conditions, crops, timing of livestock grazing, etc.

·         Increased cost to Livestock Producers: Currently, the BLM & US Forest Service charge $1.35 per Animal Unit Month (The volume of feed it takes to sustain a cow/calf pair). Current state rates for livestock grazing are approximately $8 per AUM. That’s a significant increase in operating costs for Montana’s livestock producers. It also could man the difference between a profitable year and one where the profit margin sinks to negative numbers, resulting in the subdivision of critical winter range. While it may seem odd for a hunting & angling blog to advocate for subsidized grazing, the truth is this: The impacts to wildlife by having public land grazers subdivide or sell off the family homestead to rich out-of-staters means less hunting opportunity for the average Montanan.

·         Logging: While logging state lands remains mostly profitable, the overriding talk has been how the state isn’t as tied to the lawsuits that plague a lot of timber sales. Unfortunately, this rhetoric isn’t entirely true. State Timber sales still hve to comply with the Endangered Species Act and other federal regulations related to clean air & water. They also have to go the MEPA (Montana Environmental Policy Act) process, which is less onerous than the National Environmental Policy Act. However, having the state administer these millions of acres would still grow state government exponentially as well not necessarily curb lawsuits.

·         Decreased Motorized Travel: State Trust lands are usually more restrictive in terms of allowing motorized travel than a lot of Forest Service lands. DNRC lands are generally off limits to motorized routes unless explicitly stated and even then, the public is cut out of the discussion unlike on Federal Lands, which have to go through public travel planning processes. The voice of the average hunter is lost in the mix when it comes to travel management on state lands. Lessees are given priority over hunters and anglers. It’s just how things work folks.

      In the end, when the twists and turns are explored, the real motivation comes out on these type of studies: Sell public land for short term gains. That’s unacceptable to a majority of Montanans. 

     Throughout the study, “expert” witnesses have been called by the committee to talk about why we need less public land or why the Federal Gov’t should give the states land held in trust for all people. This study committee has yet to ask for the opinions of the thousands of small business owners who rely on public lands, public land hunting, fishing and recreation or clean water for their livlihoods and jobs. It is unconscionable that a legislative committee hold a study and not invite the largest users of public lands to voice their opinion. When studies like this occur, it makes folks think that the outcome is pre-determined: Sell ‘em off, eliminate opportunity for the average Montanan and reduce the economic diversity of our state.

     The issue of public land management should be front and center. The debate, however, is not fair and balanced. It’s lop-sided and slanted to one philosophy, a philosophy that doesn’t stack up with public sentiment or our outdoor heritage. During the initial stages of the study, the Legislature asked for opinions from a select group of land managers & experts. They didn’t like what they heard, so now they’re excluding that voice from the debate.  University of Montana’s own Dr. Martin Nie – a respected author and professor whose work on public lands helps shape federal land policy had a very simple statement that should ring true for all of the Legislators and the clan of profiteers waiting to carve up our public lands: 

It is my professional opinion that the recent spate of resolutions and studies coming from western
states will end their journey in the same Cul-de sac as the sagebrush rebellion. And like the rebellion
before it, the ultimate impact of today’s protests will be more symbolic than substantive in nature.34
Symbolism has its political virtues, but governing and managing federal land is different than using
the issue as a political wedge. Resurrecting arguments from the sagebrush rebellion makes for great
political theater but such efforts will not take us very far in solving the most pressing issues in
federal lands management.

We’ll be there to make sure Dr. Nie’s prophesy comes true. Will you? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big Game, Big Country and a step forward for all Montanans

Tomorrow, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee will be voting on the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. This is a piece of legislation we've supported for a number of years, even giving input on how to make the bill better for hunters & anglers. Sponsored by Senator Max Baucus, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is moving forward with a key vote coming up tomorrow in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. Here's what Max had to say about the vote tomorrow in a press release:

A key Senate panel is scheduled to vote on the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act on Thursday November 21st, 2013 at 7:30AM MST.  The outcome of Thursday’s hearing is an important step toward moving the bill to the finish line, which Baucus has named as one of his top priorities as he finishes out his final term in office which ends January 2015. The Heritage Act is a Montana-made bill built from the ground up by a wide variety of Montanans working together since 2007 on a cooperative effort to protect the Front, while protecting grazing opportunities for ranchers and public access for hunters, fisherman, and outdoor enthusiasts. In 2011, Baucussponsored the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act after attending public listening sessions across the state.

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act:·         Protects public access for hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts
·         Designates 208,000 acres as a Conservation Management Area, a home-grown designation which would limit road building but protect current motorized recreation and public access for hunting, biking, timber thinning and grazing.
·         Prioritizes noxious weed eradication and prevention on the designated public lands which in turns helps protect adjacent private working lands.
·         Designates 67,000 acres of the Rocky Mountain Front as additions to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
·         Allows for continued grazing access for Montana ranching families
·         It will not impact current mineral leasing in Teton and Pondera Counties.
·         It will not stop Montanans from benefiting from producing oil and gas on their land.

What Max didn't say is this: The Heritage Act will continue a 100 year long tradition of ensuring wildlife will always have a place on the Rocky Mountain Front. In 1913, the Montana State Legislature established the Sun River Game Preserve. That started a 100 year conservation effort to do one thing: Keep the Front the way it is. Ranchers, farmers, hunters and conservationists of all stripes have fought together to make sure the Front retains the same characteristics as when Lewis & Clark first came though. With the exception of wild bison, all species of animals that roamed the Front are still there through the efforts of everyone who works, lives & plays along the Rocky Mountain Front.

Conservation efforts of Ranchers have lead to the protection of both critical winter range and family ag operations. Efforts of hunters have led to the establishment of the Sun River, Blackleaf & Ear Mountain Wildlife Management Areas. Efforts from hunters, environmentalists & Ranchers have led to the protection of the Front from poorly thought out mineral leasing & development.

We're proud to be on the long list of sporting clubs and organizations who support the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. It's long past time to put this piece of the puzzle into place and protect the Front!

Thanks Max, for taking this on. We know it's not been easy, but the reward will be worth it. Future generations remember the actions taken to protect what we hold dearest, and dear to our hearts is the Rocky Mountain Front.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fish & Wildlife Commission Fights for Access & Land & Water Conservation Fund

Something pretty important happened in Helena today: The Fish & Wildlife Commission issued the following proclamation in support of the Land & Water Conservation Fund:

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a Federal Program that was established by an Act of Congress in 1964 to provide funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for the acquisition of land and water, and easements on land and water, for the benefit of all Americans. The main emphases of the fund are recreation and the protection of national natural treasures in the forms of parks and protected forest and wildlife areas.
Whereas: Montana’s Outdoor Heritage is vital to the quality of life of our citizens and the United States as a whole.
Whereas: Public Access to public water, wildlife and land help ensure a vibrant, economically resilient sector of Montana’s economy.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund has been vital in helping the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks fund operations in State Parks for the benefit and enjoyment of all Montanans and visitors to the Great State of Montana.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund is responsible for helping fund the acquisition of approximately 70% of all Fishing Access Sites in Montana.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund has been judiciously and efficiently used to ensure future hunting and angling opportunity through the purchase of strategic pieces of land.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund has been instrumental in conserving vital habitat for Threatened and Endangered Species, ensuring their eventual delisting and return to State Management.
Whereas: The ability to connect with Montana’s outdoor spaces, publicly owned wildlife, rivers and streams is one of Montana’s greatest assets.
Whereas the Land and Water Conservation Fund stateside assistance program has greatly improved the quality of life for all Montana citizens through projects on school playgrounds, city parks, increased recreational opportunities in towns and state lands for non-consumptive users,
Whereas: Protecting working landscapes through conservation easements ensures that farmers and ranchers will be able to pass their operations down to their children while preserving Montana’s unique and vibrant landscape.
Whereas: Senators Max Baucus & Jon Tester have long advocated for access to public lands and waters, fought for funding of the Land & Water Conservation Fund, and helped ensure Montana’s economic diversity through their stalwart championship of the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
Therefore, be it resolved in acclimation of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission acting in regular session on November 14th, 2013 in Helena Montana that the Land & Water Conservation Fund should be reauthorized with no sunset date. Be it further resolved that the United States Congress must fully fund the Land & Water Conservation Fund to the full amount of $900 million per year from offshore mineral leasing royalty without diversion to other programs. 

We give a mighty tip of our Stormy Kromer to the Commission for stepping up and calling for the reauthorization of LWCF & calling on Congress to quit screwing around and fully fund this critical program.

LWCF has brought Montanans about 70% of our fishing access sites, places like Tenderfoot in the Belt Mountains, Fish Creek outside of Missoula and the Marshall Block by Seely Lake. It's a great program that helps ensure access to public lands, water & wildlife. Without it, we'd be up a creek without a paddle when it comes to ensuring Montanans have a place to hunt and fish. In fact, LWCF not only plays a role in acquiring new land, if Senator Tester's SPORT Act goes through, it could help ensure that Montanans can negotiate with private landowners to purchase access easements to landlocked public land. More access means more hunting opportunity. It also means more economic opportunity for the businesses that rely on Montana's vibrant public hunting economy.

Here's the full press release from the Montana Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Public Land & Water Association:

 For Immediate Release: November 14, 2013


·         John Gibson, President, Public Land & Water Access Association (406) 698-6021
·         Dave Chadwick, Executive Director, Montana Wildlife Federation (406) 458-0227
·         Land Tawney, Executive Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (406) 370-3243

Montana Outdoors Organizations Praise Fish & Wildlife Commission’s Support for Land and Water Conservation Fund

HELENA – Montana sportsmen and women are praising the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission for today’s proclamation in support of Senator Max Baucus’ bill to reauthorize the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF uses offshore oil leases—not taxes—to invest in state and federal parks, trail systems and waterways.  In Montana, the Fund is used for everything from Fishing Access Sites to making public land more accessible.

In their proclamation, fish and wildlife commissioners also called for full federal funding of LWCF to the tune of $900 million per year.  Over the years, more than $17 billion has been diverted from LWCF to pay for unrelated spending.  This year the U.S. House of Representatives zeroed out funding from the LWCF.

“The Commission knows well that the Land & Water Conservation Fund is responsible for over 70 percent of Montana’s Fishing Access Sites and has been used in several recent projects that protect wildlife habitat on public and private land while also increasing the public’s access to public resources,” said Dave Chadwick, Executive Director of the Montana Wildlife Federation.  “We’re very grateful to our Fish & Wildlife Commission for supporting the protection of important natural lands and clean, flowing waters.  LWCF helps provide great public access to recreational opportunities and sustainable growth for Montana’s economy. ”

The Fish and Wildlife Commission’s proclamation notes that access to public water, wildlife and land helps “ensure a vibrant, economically resilient sector of Montana’s economy.”

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation is responsible for pumping more than $5.8 billion into Montana’s economy every year.  It also supports more than 64,000 jobs in the Treasure State.

“This bill is a common sense approach to expanding public access to the land Montanans hold dear without asking taxpayers for a dime,” said Baucus, who has been a stalwart supporter of LWCF through his 35 years in the Senate.  “Outdoor heritage fuels our economy and supports jobs – investing in it today will pay dividends over the long haul.”

Baucus has said passing his Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act is one of his top priorities to accomplish before his final term ends in 2014.

What Montanans are saying about the importance of the LWCF:

·         “Access in Montana is controversial. Some places see roads gated, locked off from the public who have a right to access these places. When programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund are actually funded, our ability to access public lands increases. Places like the Marshall Block WMA, Fish Creek WMA & many of our state parks have benefited from the Land & Water Conservation Fund. Montanans have been directly affected by the wise use of these funds to increase access to public lands in places like the Tenderfoot Drainage of the Belt Mountains and the purchase of the Marshall Block & Fish Creek Wildlife Management Areas in western Montana.” -John Gibson, President of the Public Land and Water Access Association

·         “The middle of hunting season is a good time to recognize the importance of the Land & Water Conservation Fund. Many hunters will enjoy access and quality habitats provided by LWCF & not realize it. LWCF is one of the most important access programs in Montana for carrying on our sporting heritage. This bill needs to pass.  The Fish & Wildlife Commission has made a sound financial decision as well as one that helps people enjoy their public lands.” -Land Tawney, President of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

·         “It’s important to recognize that programs like LWCF have been utilized to increase access to public lands as well as conserve some our most important wildlife habitats along the Rocky Mountain Front, Upper Blackfoot, Gallatin National Forest, Belt Mountains and many other places in Montana.  LWCF has been a huge success in Montana. It’s time to finally fund the Fund and keep it going for future generations.” -Dan Vermillion, Chairman of the Fish & Wildlife Commission

·         “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks depends on the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund to ensure access to public lands and wildlife. We’ve leveraged LWCF dollars with private funding and hunting license dollars to ensure Montanans will always have places to hunt geese along the Missouri River, mule deer on the Marias, and elk in the Upper Blackfoot. This program means that Montana's hunting traditions and local economies will have a bright future. Access matters to Montanans, and LWCF is one of our best tools for new public access to both private and public land." – Jeff Hagener, Director, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Land and Water Conservation Fund: Democracy, and the Economics of Access

The sound of splashing and laughing children drifts through a dense thicket of willows and cottonwood saplings. It’s a hot, mid- Saturday morning in early August at Grey Owl Fishing Access Site on the Yellowstone River, crowded with a row of parked pickups and SUVs and Subarus left behind by the early wave of fishermen and guides boats already far downstream. Late arrivals like my son and daughter and I are everywhere. A cowboy-hatted man and his three kids drag a sun-bleached raft to the water, while a woman in a new Toyota 4-Runner waits her turn to launch an elegant Lavro driftboat.  A yellow Labrador pup trots by, nose-to-gravel, pursued by a swift barefooted toddler in shorts, who has outdistanced a young woman bearing a swim bag in one hand and a picnic cooler in the other.  We’re here to wile away an hour or two, just passing through on our way home. Like everybody else here, we’ve come to enjoy one of the coldest, cleanest, most accessible big rivers in the world.

From the fly angler hunting native cutthroats on the Upper Bitterroot to the bowfisherman stalking paddlefish in the Dredge Cuts of below Fort Peck Reservoir, there may be no place on earth where people enjoy free access to such a wide variety of waters, fish, wildlife and just pure outdoor experience as they do right now in Montana. It’s a sad irony that, in a world where top quality fishing and some of our most beautiful landscapes are increasingly reserved for those who can pay the most for them, almost none of the estimated 950,000 people annually who enjoy Montana’s rivers and lakes have any idea why we have such an extensive network of public access sites, deliberately acquired and carefully developed, to ensure that such access remains for future generations.  
That irony is even sadder because the mechanism used to establish that visionary network of access, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), has been pillaged in an increasingly brazen manner for the past two decades, with almost $17 billion of its funds removed to date. LWCF, despite its track record of success, is now in danger of being eliminated altogether, largely due to political leaders acting out of ideologically- hidebound ignorance, or who simply want to use the money allocated to the LWCF for almost anything but conservation and the public’s access to America’s outdoors.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was born in the early years of the 1960’s from the ideas of President John F. Kennedy, the renowned conservation leader (and then Secretary of the Interior) Stewart Udall, and others. It was established in 1965. The Act designated that a small portion of the annual receipts from offshore oil and gas leases would be placed into a fund that would be distributed to the states for projects focusing on everything from public tennis courts and swimming pools to protecting watersheds, national parks, wildlife and fisheries and other natural resources. The LWCF was to have an allocation cap of $900 million – a powerful sum at a time when real estate and development costs were very low compared to now.

Since 1965, when the money began to be available to states and communities, LWCF has become one of the most successful and non-controversial funding sources in history, in large part because it isn’t a tax, and simply because it has been so successful, using funds generated by a non-renewable resource (oil and gas) to invest in extremely popular projects in all 50 states. (For more background, see our first LWCF story from August 15th or go here  for a comprehensive report on both the history and the possible future of the LWCF).

One of those success stories was the establishment of public Fishing Access Sites across Montana. In the first three decades after the Land and Water Conservation Fund was created in 1965, 241 of Montana’s 775 fishing access sites were purchased outright with LWCF money. The goal was simple: ensure public access to the rivers and lakes for fishing and other recreation. What was achieved was of a much larger magnitude.

“From 1965 through the 70s we put so much good work on the ground here in Montana with LWCF money,” said Tom Reilly, who oversees LWCF projects for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Even as it tapered off in the 80’s and 90’s, we were still accomplishing goals that became a huge boon to our state, in just about every aspect of life, from swimming pools and tennis courts in rural communities that would have never had them, to the fishing access sites themselves. Beyond just giving people a way to enjoy the rivers, a lot of those sites have become surrounded by development now. They’ve become the local places where everybody goes for walks, trains their dogs, take the kids swimming and floating. It’s why people want to live and raise their families in these towns and cities - it goes so far beyond just fishing access, which is all we thought we were doing at the time, that it’s hard to imagine.”  Reilly also says that he “gets calls all the time from people in other states, asking ‘how can we do what you have done?’ We are the envy of almost everyone in every other state.”
What the acquisition of the fishing access sites has achieved is known to economists as a “multiplier,” a force that resonates outward and creates more wealth for more people than the original resource itself. Thomas Michael Power, who served for twenty years as the Chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Montana, has studied and written about the role of what he calls “amenity supported economic vitality” for almost as long as the LWCF has been in existence. “What leads a person to choose one location over another?” Power asks. “What accounts for what demographers call the ‘resettling of the Inland west?’ The answer is found in the transformation of western Montana, where you have the public lands and the access to rivers, combined in many places with the cultural amenities of college towns nearby. There are tremendous mental payoffs in living a healthy and active life, and people in the knowledge class- most of them highly skilled professionals- understand that. They seek out the places where they can live that kind of life, and that’s where they put down roots and raise families. And they create a climate for lots of start-up businesses, a climate with a lot of dynamism.”  Power notes that this does not come about accidentally.  “You have to have leadership, people who can imagine how things could be better. And you will always have people who oppose them. The change in how we view our rivers, and how we’ve treated them, is incredible, but it did not happen without a fight, and that continues today.” 

The quality of life created by ready access to clean rivers and public lands has transformed the demographics and real estate markets of cities like Bozeman and Missoula, Power said, and a recreation economy based on those same amenities has been “an ongoing source of income and employment” that carries well away from the cities, as well. “You now have so many small businesses operating seasonally, in all of these out of the way places, like along the Salmon River in Idaho. I hear people say, ‘oh, that seasonal work, you can’t live that way’ but many, many people do, and they choose it. They are in a partnership or self-employed and they’ll do something else the rest of the year. The criticism that these jobs are too low paid, or people only do them because there’s nothing else available, is unwarranted. For most people who do that work, it’s a choice.” 

There are acres of mind-numbing but important findings about the quantifiable strength of the recreation economy and about the power of “amenity-supported economic vitality” in the modern day West. Clearly, the oil and gas revenues flowing into the LWCF and on to the states have proved to be one of the best and most reliable investments the US has ever made in its own future. Studies conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association find that consumer spending on outdoor recreation in Montana adds up to $5.8 billion every year, accounts for 64,000 direct jobs with $1.5 billion in wages, and adds $403 million in state and local tax revenue to the coffers. Another outdoor trade group, The Society of Recreation Professionals, produces an extensive array of proof of the multiplier effect of the LWCF, and their literature states bluntly: “The 1965 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF) is the most significant outdoor recreation enactment in our Nation’s history.”

To step aside from the abstract world of economic statistics and theories and talk directly to those who live them is easy to do in Montana, where there are hundreds of licensed hunting and fishing outfitters, operating everything from lodges to day-trips to weeks-long wilderness pack trips. “We probably have about 300 outfitters on our organization who offer fishing only,” said Robin Cunningham, Executive Director of the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM), “and another 100 that offer fishing along with other activities. And of course, although I’d like to think differently, not all outfitters are members of FOAM.” Cunningham, based in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, is quick to acknowledge the role of the fishing access sites in his industry, and in the economic multiplier effect. “Our clients fly here, they stay in local motels, go out to eat, rent cars and travel, go to tackle shops and fish on their own. You’re getting probably twice the amount of money coming in to the state that we’re paid to guide and outfit the clients.” And it’s an industry based on nothing more or less than clean water and access.  “The big picture is that having all those sites means we can offer our clients the kind of diversity in fishing that will keep them happy and keep them coming back.  A Montana outfitter can offer plenty of options- if a river is not fishing well, or if the client wants to see a particular place, or get away from other anglers, we can do that. There’s no way we could do that without the fishing access sites we have.” Cunningham also points out that, perhaps counter-intuitively, the widely distributed access contributes to the health of the world-class fishery. “No one place gets too much use. You can look at rivers like the Madison, which is the most heavily used river in Montana- 160,000 angler visits per year. It’s still an excellent fishery, and that’s partly because when it gets too crowded, fishermen can go to any of dozens of other rivers or lakes, or to another part of the Madison.”  
For veteran outdoorsman and outfitter John Herzer of the Missoula-based Blackfoot Outfitters, the rivers of Montana are home as well as workplace. Herzer says, even in his day-to-day life on the rivers, he’s never once lost sight of just how lucky he and his family are to be so involved with, and dependent upon, such a powerful natural resource. “We have access to what I would say is the strongest fishery of its kind in the nation, all of these public lands and rivers. It is just incredible.” That access is the key to Herzer’s family business which includes two fly shops, nine employees, as many as seventeen guides who work as independent contractors, and at least twenty people driving shuttles on the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers every day of the season, making $20-$45 per trip.  “All of our guides have their own boats, tackle, trailers, trucks, all of that, and every one of them is at the grocery store every day, buying groceries for the clients. This is a very serious deal for local businesses.” Herzer estimates that 85% of his business depends on the fishing access sites. “Without them we are, essentially, out of business.”  He says it is important to remember that each guide and outfitter pays a $100 annual fee to use the sites, and a percentage of their gross income to the state for the use of most of the rivers. “So that, again, is a big revenue stream produced year after year by those access sites. Without them, the state would not have that, either.”

“We have so many clients who won’t go to other states to fish, because they know they’ll have the chance to fish so many different rivers here, and if the Clark Fork, for example, is fishing poorly, we can load up and go to the Big Hole.  I cannot emphasize how important that is to us.” Beyond business, though, Herzer says, the public access to this resource is a fundamental part of what makes Montana, and our nation, unique. “All of the people like you and me, who probably don’t have the money to buy our own ranches, or own a home on a river to have a place to fish, we have all of this. In any given season in our work, we see literally thousands of people using the fishing access sites to enjoy the rivers. I think a lot of people in politics forget how important all of this is to our country.”

On a national level, the facts support that claim. The looting of the LWCF began in earnest in the late 1980’s, and appropriations for the Fund have decreased every year since 2001. As Tim Ahern of the Trust for Public Land, explains, “The money still goes into the LWCF every year. No, it’s not as much as it’s supposed to be, but last fiscal year, $322 million went in. But the LWCF has come to be seen as just a big cookie jar- the money is appropriated for something other than conservation.” What has to happen now, Ahern said, is that the Congress first has to reauthorize the Act in 2014, mandate that the LWCF be fully funded every year, and establish clearly where the money must be used.
In Montana, the kind of partisan political leadership that has poisoned discourse across much of the nation is uncommon. The pragmatists among Montana’s political leadership have been relentless advocates for the LWCF, for reauthorization, full funding, and for restoring the use of the fund for conservation.

In February of 2013, Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced SB 338, The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act Senator Tester explained to reporters, "Hunters and anglers tell me every day that their top priority for Montana is ensuring public access to public land. Outdoor recreation creates thousands of Montana jobs and protects our proud outdoor traditions for future generations.  The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a popular, smart investment in the future of our land, our clean water, and our kids and grandkids who will grow up enjoying the same outdoor opportunities we all love in Montana."

In August, Senator Baucus and his staff organized a float on the Madison River specifically to bring attention to the importance of the LWCF.  A large flotilla of rafts and canoes and kayaks took to the water along a carefully chosen route—- from the Milwaukee Fishing Access site (purchased with LWCF funds) downstream to the Missouri River Headwaters State Park (an LWCF project which preserves the site where the Lewis and Clark expedition camped in the summer of 1805) where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers all come together to form the 2300 mile-long Missouri. Along the entire route of the float is very popular ten mile walking and biking trail, developed also with help from the LWCF, which connects the town of Three Forks to the state park.

Scott Bosse, the Director of Northern Rockies Conservation for the group American Rivers, took to the river with the rest of the flotilla, (his report is here:, and ended up piloting Senator Baucus down the Madison in his raft. In an interview last week, Bosse said he’d been thinking a lot about that day on the river with a career politician who has been an unflagging advocate for the LWCF and other conservation causes. “Our tagline at American Rivers is ‘Rivers Connect Us,’ and I think that’s appropriate,” Bosse said. “But there’s something deeper here, too, with all this effort to connect people of every kind and every kind of means to this huge world of their rivers and fisheries. I think what we’re talking about with the fishing access sites is that, in the West at least, this kind of public access is the connection between the great outdoors and our democracy.”  

To learn more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund and what is at stake, visit the LWCF Coalition

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Man for Our Times

We're happy to join the chorus of folks endorsing Neil Kornze as the new director of the Bureau of Land Managment. Neil has a giant task ahead of him: balancing the needs of wildlife, hunters & anglers, energy development and agricultural users. 

Issues such as Mule Deer declines, potential listing of Sage Grouse due to energy development & sage brush conversion as well as emerging issues such proper permitting of renewable energy development mean our public lands are under more pressure than ever when it comes to balancing multiple use. It's going to take a steady hand and steely temperment to ensure that our public land heritage can be passed down to the next generation. It's no small task. We are optimistic that with Neil's leadership, that balancing act can be accomplished. 

Here's what folks are saying about it: 
In a recent speech, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made a strong case for the economic and social significance of our nation’s public lands. Hunters and anglers couldn’t agree more. We applaud attention to the need to ensure balance and responsible energy development of the land. We will continue to urge Jewell and the new BLM director to make good on promises on leasing reforms and other policies to achieve that balance,” said Ed Arnett, director of TRCP’s Partnership Center for Responsible Energy Development.

“During his time on Capitol Hill and in recent years at the BLM, Neil has demonstrated a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach to public lands challenges,” said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood.  “Neil has the perfect balance of a deep appreciation for the conservation value of public lands, and the role they play in providing goods and services that drive local economies.  As a native of a Nevada mining town, Neil is deeply rooted in the West. His background has prepared him well to step in and lead the nation’s largest public land management agency.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

Opening Day

I've got a pocket full of tags and a loose knit plan on how to fill them all. This Saturday, 130,000 fellow Montanans and I will begin our five week journey where we fall in love with Montana all over again. Fall in the high country, coulees & fields of Montana is about as close to heaven as you can get without meeting your maker.

I’ve already got days in the field chasing pronghorn & upland birds but nothing in the bag yet. I missed an easy shot on a dandy Pronghorn Buck. So long as all things come together again, he’ll be on public land or on Block Management. I swear these big boys know what’s open and what’s not. He’s been planted on two sections of private land; an island in a sea of state & Block Management. His herd is all over with a few smaller bucks thrown in the mix.

I watched him for hours last Friday. He bedded 350 yards from a piece of Block Management that I was signed in to. I waited until last light. He slipped over the hill and deeper into the island of private land. Such is life. The next day he was 130 yards off the county road as I drove in. Along with a 1.5 year old buck, he took off in the direction of state land. We swung down the road and the entire herd swept by us, hooked a hard left and hit the State land.

Finally, it happened. He was legal and the chase was on. We stalked the ¾ mile across the barely green winter wheat. If the herd acted like I’d hoped, they’d be at the bottom of the hill. They were. I dropped to my knees, lasered the herd at 240 yards.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, two towers of black shifted. There he was. I had him – dead to rights. He was watching me and partly obscured by a rise between us. The Leupold range finder showed 127 yards.

I belly crawled a few more yards to get the right shot. He was exposed; watching me as I tried to calm down enough to get the crosshairs lined up. The shot went off and I saw the bullet smack the dirt directly between us, 5 feet off of where it was supposed to go. In my haste, I didn't account for the wind.

Colorful language ensued.

I’m hopeful this scenario replays itself for all of us,, but with a better outcome. As we all gather our gear, make that final trip to range, plan our hunts, research public land, block management areas or look for access to friendly ranches and farms, Montanans are partaking in more than just hunting.
Our economic engine gets a lot of juice from hunters. The money we spend in preparation of the hunt and during the hunt help local economies thrive even during down economic times. The threats to not only our traditions, but the very lands we rely on for our winter’s meat are many. Forces aligned to take away long seasons, abundant wildlife and ample opportunity never sleep.

While we all enjoy the next five weeks, remember that your opportunity doesn't come just during hunting season. We all have to stand up and fight for wildlife and for our ability to harvest it.

Good hunting! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Kicked out, Shut Down & Sold Out

The Government is shutdown, Yellowstone and Glacier are closed for business, costing local businesses much needed revenue during the fall season. Archery hunters in the CMR have had to pick up and get out. Federal Fishing Access Sites along Fort Peck, the Bighorn River and Missouri are closed. Forest Service campgrounds sit empty as hunters pack up and move on. Nobody knows when it will end and it doesn’t look like congress has a plan to get us back to normal before pheasant opener on the 12thThe petty politics of Washington DC are throwing an unneeded monkey wrench into Montana’s hunting season.


But while everyone is focused on the Continuing Resolution or whatever manufactured crisis comes up next, the House Natural Resource Committee continues to push full steam ahead.


Yesterday, the committee had a hearing on the North Fork Protection Act from Montana’s own Congressman Steve Daines.  The bill is widely hailed by the logging industry, mineral companies and the conservation community as a testament to people working together to find common sense solutions based on input from folks who live and play in the areas under consideration. It’s the product of years of hard work by a lot of good folks who want to ensure that the North Fork of the Flathead remains wild and brawling. We support that bill, and Congressman Daine’s actions to protect the North Fork.


At the same hearing, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) got a hearing on his bill, HR 2657, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 which would sell off about 3.3 million acres of public land in a huge swath of western states, Montana included. Chaffetz and others argue that this public land holds no value. Basing his bill off of an outdated 1997 survey of public lands, Chaffetz would eliminate some prime hunting ground, selling it off to the highest bidder. Cloaking his bill in the banner of “the children,”Chaffetz during his testimony said that there’s really no other way to raise revenue for schools. Apparently, Congressman Chaffetz doesn’t understand how local governments work.


There have always been short-sighted individuals who think of public land as a curse. These folks usually wrap themselves in the cloak of economic development and limited Government. The reality is this: Public Lands in the west are huge economic drivers and revenue generators. Eliminating 3.3 million acres of public land, an area the size of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks combined, isn’t good governance, it’s poor economic planning. It’s also the top down, limited input type of legislation that always has significant problems with it in the off chance it actually gets implemented.


In a political world where most every move is scripted, thehighly dubious effort to hold a hearing on a controversial bill like this while the entire nation worries about how the shutdown will affect them shows to us that maybe the committee is in fact trying to slip this through unnoticed. Well, we noticed.


There hasn’t been a vote yet, and as Montana’s Congressman sits on the Committee, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on this bill to make sure the interests of public land hunters, anglers and the small businesses that rely on our revenue are taken in to account.


If you want to contact Congressman Daines and thank him for his work on the North Fork Protection Act and ask him to oppose HR 2567, you can contact him here:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Sweet Spot

I haven’t anticipated a duck season like this since I was a kid. I’ve got a serious case of duck fever.  Thanks to the conservation ethic of America’s hunters, the prairies are full of birds.  Slightly down from last year but the second best numbers since they started counting in 1955, at 45.6 million ducks, there will be plenty of opportunity.  I have freshened up both my goose and duck spreads with some finely crafted birds. 

 First, Final Approach has come out with some flocked head, flocked tailed, full body field honkers that look dead sexy.  They have aptly named them Last Pass. .  

If you hunt waterfowl and you haven’t heard of Hard Core decoys, put it on the list.  High quality, guaranteed paint, and damned affordable; I picked up a half dozen of their field dekes as well as their pre-rigged floaters.  The idea of a complete system straight out of the box is perfect for me.  With young kids, time is at a premium and I already spend more time away from home than my wife can tolerate.  Being able to put them together in literally 10 minutes is just up this young father’s alley.  I can’t wait to try all sorts of placement schemes and trick me some quackers.  

This year I’m going to be dry, warm, and comfortable.  Sitka Gear came out with a waterfowl line in January 2012 that is changing waterfowl clothing as we know it.  Just pick up any outdoors catalog to see some of the copycats.  Sitka has technical gear that isn’t bulky but keeps the elements out.  I’m most excited about their Pantanal Jacket and Duck Oven.  They crafted their waterfowl camo pattern on what a duck would see, not you and I, a duck.  That’s the prey, right? 

So all this new kickass gear and reports of thunderous -flocks are exciting but not ultimately what makes my heart quicken.  My-five-year old daughter Cidney has been interested in birds since I started bringing them home.  She has stood by my side, handing me birds to clean and watching me clean them since she was one.

 Last year, she asked if she could do more.  I thought for a minute and then showed her how to breast a bird out…it took a couple tries but after she finished that brace of birds that night, she was a pro. Now, she cleans birds better than most of my friends.  No qualms!  Soon I will teach her how to use a knife.  We spent one day in the marsh last year.  It was a sunny mid-day hunt, not ideal for harvesting but good for her first hunt.  We got all camoed up and headed to one of my favorite spots close to town.  She helped me set dekes and she tried her hand at blowing her pink DU duck call.  While she isn’t a world champion caller yet, she was an enthusiastic guster.  We will work on her feeding call.  About a half hour in we heard a truck pull up across the river about a half mile downstream.  We watched what appeared to be a grandfather and his grandson get out with loads of spinning tackle.  Hard to blame them as it was a sunny fall afternoon. With all the racket Cid was making and a dozen and a half decoys in the water, I was surprised when they walked right up on us.  It was time to go.  I got out and started picking up dekes when the grandfather said, “Oh we didn’t see you there, didn’t realize you could duck hunt this time of year.
As I put the last decoy in the bag, two drake mallards almost landed on my head!  Not our day. On the way back to the truck Cid asked, “Why did we have to leave dad?”  I thought for a second and then responded, “Cid, we will hunt again. It’s best to share the river with others and today, it was that grandfather’s time with his grandson.”  This seemed to appease her.  And you know what, this little girl and I will get ours this year. 

We have made a pact to hunt every Sunday, some good ol’ fashioned daddy/daughter time.  She will see her beloved Turk retrieve some wily waterfowl and all will be right.  This is what I most anticipate about hunting this year. This is what takes over my brain and gives me the fever a lot more than the gear or the birds themselves. Building the love of hunting in my daughter just as my father built it in me is the finest gift I can give her.  It’s the sweet spot.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Opportunity & Access For All

Fall in Montana is about as close to Heaven as you can get and September 28th is a day that every hunter knows is a good day to be in the field. Tomorrow, Saturday, September 28th is National Hunting and Fishing Day. The bill establishing this day was signed into law in 1972. It’s a day when elk will be moving because of snow in the high country, trout will still be slamming hoppers and Montanans will be out in force, as usual, enjoying our public lands and public wildlife.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell just announced that she is directing the Department of the Interior to open up more access to hunting and angling in  America’s Wildlife refuges. Here’s what the Secretary and the Department had to say from this press release:

In advance of National Hunting and Fishing Day on September 28th, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to expand fishing and hunting opportunities throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, opening up new hunting programs on six refuges and expanding existing hunting and fishing programs on another 20 refuges. The proposed rule also modifies existing refuge-specific regulations for more than 75 additional refuges and wetland management districts. “Sportsmen and women were a major driving force behind the creation and expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than a century ago and continue to be some of its strongest supporters, especially through their volunteer work and financial contributions,” Jewell said. “Keeping our hunting and angling heritage strong by providing more opportunities on our refuges will not only help raise up a new generation of conservationists, but also support local businesses and create jobs in local communities.”

It is a great sign that Secretary Jewell recognizes the need to maintain and expand access for hunters and anglers in every corner of this country. Hunting and angling are big business, a fact Jewell knows from her time at outdoor retailer REI. We also know that access alone isn't enough.  We need to protect critical habitat that is essential to sustaining healthy populations of wildlife for now and future generations.

With Congress, especially the House of Representatives, unable to see the forest for the trees on much of anything and continually stuck in the rut of budget squabble after squabble, we need leaders like Secretary Jewell to stand up, defend conservation and ensure that the world we're leaving to our kids is better than the one given to us. Policies like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and making sure energy development is done responsibly in the right places all play a large part in our ability to hunt on public lands.

We need bold leadership on these issues. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

Montana hunters and anglers have been at the vanguard in both stream access and access to public wildlife. We've also taken some firm stands when it comes to what that access should look like. 

Access doesn't mean a two track in every drainage. It doesn't mean jet boats on every square inch of water and it doesn't mean foot travel only on public lands. There is a balance that must be achieved both in terms of human use of the forest and maintain quality opportunity to harvest an animal on public lands.

We’re also painfully aware of the loss of access to traditional lands – both public and private – as new breeds of landowners take over homestead farms and ranches. Secretary Jewell’s announcement that the US Fish & Wildlife Service will expand hunting and fishing opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges is greatly welcomed. It’s this kind of leadership that we need in Washington D.C. instead of more gridlock and partisan bickering.

Here’s a tip of our Stormy Kromer to Secretary Jewell and to increasing public access to public land and public wildlife!