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Archive for August, 2012

FAIRPLAY, Colo. – The decision to offer federal oil and gas leases in South Park – a regional hunting and fishing haven – before updating its planning documents or contacting local officials reinforces the need for the Bureau of Land Management to honor its promise on leasing reforms, conservation groups said Friday.

The BLM will offer six parcels totaling about 2,850 acres in South Park in its February 2013 auction. Some of the parcels include public land withdrawn from a sale last November. Sites up for auction include land near Spinney Reservoir and the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, both gold-medal fisheries, and important big-game summer and winter habitat. The area is also the headwaters of the South Platte River and a major water source for the cities of Denver and Aurora.

“South Park is a unique fish and wildlife resource that offers world-class hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation is less than a two-hour drive from a major metropolitan area,’’ said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

Hunting and angling groups and Park County, at the heart of South Park, questioned why the BLM would offer the leases using a management plan last updated in 1996. The groups, hundreds of area residents and business owners and county officials asked the BLM to do more planning and review before approving new development.

Earlier this year, the BLM rejected developing a master leasing plan for South Park, saying there wasn’t enough interest from energy companies in the area. A master leasing plan is among the reforms the Interior Department unveiled in 2010 and is a landscape-scale analysis to assess potential, cumulative impacts before leases are issued.

The BLM hasn’t responded to Park County’s July 5 letter requesting comprehensive planning “before major energy development changes the face of this special part of the West .’’

“And we didn’t learn of the upcoming lease sale in Park County until it was past the date to make comments,’’ said Tom Eisenman, county administration officer. “It’s kind of insulting.’’

The BLM said North Park in northern Colorado was too developed to use a master leasing plan and South Park wasn’t developed enough, said Bob Meulengracht of Trout Unlimited, the Colorado organizer for Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development.

“We’re waiting for the BLM to follow through on its promise to use this planning tool, which can be helpful to industry as well as local governments and conservation efforts,’’ Meulengracht added.

Park County is spending tens of thousands of dollars and is working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte to establish baseline data on water quality before oil and gas drilling increases. South Park, like North Park, is a high-elevation basin ringed by mountains that’s being eyed by energy companies for its oil and natural gas deposits. The Niobrara oil formation underlies both areas.

“This is Denver’s watershed, but the BLM’s knowledge of the area’s baseline water quality is weak to nonexistent,’’ said Eddie Kochman, a Park County landowner and retired Colorado state fisheries manager.

The BLM can address questions about effects on water, fish and wildlife by doing a little more planning on the front end, said Kate Zimmerman, public lands policy director for the National Wildlife Federation.

“The purpose is to explore the potential impacts and conflicts before leases are sold and drilling permits issued,’’ Zimmerman. “We support well-planned, responsible energy development and avoiding and minimizing the impacts and conflicts while it’s still possible.’’

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Elevenmile Reservoir (connected to, and near, Spinney Mountain Reservoir) is a top destination for Colorado anglers in South Park. Photo: Rich Holland

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When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently reported the number of hunters grew by nine percent since 2006 and the number of anglers grew by 11 percent in that same time frame, sportsmen and the sporting industry were thrilled. The numbers, which are preliminary results released as the initial look into the USFWS’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, reversed what had been dropping participation levels in fishing over the past 10 years and indicated the first jump in hunter numbers in more than two decades. But what were the reasons for the turnaround?

Mark Fisher of WileyX Sunglasses with a brown trout from the South Platte River in Colorado. Photo: Matt Vincent

Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which is a leading research and data analysis firm focused on the sportfishing and hunting industries, says the evidence points to several key factors.

“The slow economy has certainly had an impact”, says Southwick. “When the economy took a hit, a lot of people went back to enjoying more traditional activities that were also less costly than other options. Fishing license sales and tackle sales data all back that up.”

In addition to simple economics, on-going efforts to recruit new anglers are paying off. Southwick points to programs such as the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing National Campaign, which has been instrumental in introducing the sport to thousands of new anglers. Demographic shifts are also having an impact.

“Initial feedback indicates more baby boomers may be taking to the water”, says Southwick. The company and the USFWS will be looking at additional data in the coming months to identify other potential trends among youth and other segments of the angling community.

“We’ll be looking closely for shifts in youth and female participation. By the end of the year, we’ll know more”, says Southwick.

John Gale of the National Wildlife Federation with two cock pheasants from Northeastern Colorado. Photo: Lew Carpenter

On the hunting side, the growth in participation is due to the same factors where the economy and recruitment programs are concerned.

“This is the first measured large increase in the number of hunters in years”, says Southwick. “Conservation and firearms industry organizations have been particularly effective at communicating the benefits of hunting.”

Organizations such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance all have programs geared toward growing youth and overall participation and have even teamed up to ease age restrictions that deterred many young people from participating in hunting. Additionally, expanded hunting opportunities such as allowing the use of crossbows in a number of states has made hunting more attractive to many new and returning hunters.

“Probably one of the most significant changes has been an apparent cultural shift regarding the acceptance and use of firearms”, says Southwick. Whether hunting or target shooting, many younger adults in their twenties and early thirties, are taking to shooting sports. Firearms sales have been strong for four years.  Whether this is attributable to returning soldiers with a newly found appreciation of the shooting sports or to adults who want to get outside after spending too much of their youth indoors, we need to learn more about the reasons behind the increase”,  says Southwick.

Southwick says there will be more details to come as his team reviews the data to identify more trends behind the growth in hunting and fishing and offers organizations the insight to keep these trends headed in a positive direction.

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20120811-073411.jpgThe sun was high overhead as our Skeeter center console shot through the narrow canals of the marsh. Pushing out into open water a spoonbill crane launched skyward, its pink wings stretching out into graceful flight.

The Vanishing Paradise team was holding court for 3 days out of Ryan Lambert’s Cajun Adventures lodge in Buras, Louisiana with the editorial teams from Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. The event was generously sponsored by Vanishing Paradise/National Wildlife Federation, Top Brass Tackle, Bomber/Heddon Lures, HuntDucks.com, Frabil, Wiley X, Berkley Pro Fishing, Fowl Play Game Calls, and Marsh Works

We spent three days of fishing and three days of educating America’s premier sportsmen’s publications on the threats to wildlife and habitat facing Louisiana’s coastline. But it didn’t take much to educate this knowledgeable group – in fact many here were already acutely aware of the challenges the area is experiencing. America’s sportsmen’s paradise is in severe decline – and it amounts to a crisis for hunters and anglers across the country.

“If we let these wetlands fall, what’s next,” proclaimed Vanishing Paradise’s Land Tawney. “This ecosystem is directly connected to the Prairie Potholes along the U.S./Canada border as well as the entire Mississippi flyway – the cost to American waterfowlers alone is too great to comprehend.”

Anglers, too, have much to be concerned with. “This is one of the best places to fish on the planet,” said Eric Cosby of Top Brass Tackle. “There are many great places to fish, but the Louisiana wetlands represent the best there is – from 200-pound-class offshore tuna to the magnificent bull reds inshore and within the marsh itself – pound-for-pound the action is unbeatable.”

The good news is that shortly after our trip with Field and Stream and Outdoor Life the U.S. Congress passed a troubled Transportation bill. Contained within was the Restore Act – a piece of legislation that sends 80 percent of BP oil spill fines under the Clean Water At directly into coastal restoration. This will be an estimated $3-$18 billion just for restoring this sportsmen’s paradise.

“This has the potential to be the greatest influx of conservation dollars in history,” Tawney said. “It took 75 years for Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson and Wallop-Breaux to put $14 billion into the system. We may bypass that amount in one fell swoop.”

So what’s next? Each gulf state must put together a plan for this funding, and Louisiana has already approved a robust state master plan to use these dollars efficiently.

As for Field and Stream and Outdoor Life – the fight to educate Americans on the value, wealth of habitat and wildlife continues. Sportsmen across this nation continue to work hard to ensure our legacy survives and that those who come after us have the same opportunities we did to hunt and fish.

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The nation’s public lands are important to all Americans –  including oil and gas producers, hunters, anglers and recreationists – and balancing multiple uses on the lands is crucial to maintaining their sustainability, a representative for sportsmen’s groups told a congressional committee Thursday.

Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s assistant energy director, told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce that striking a balance between energy production and conservation on public lands is essential for sustaining quality hunting and angling, which contribute at least $76 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

The Missoula, Mont., resident also represented Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

“I firmly believe that responsible energy production that balances the needs of fish and wildlife habitats and water resources is achievable and is an important component of a sound economy,’’ Fisher said to the committee, which held a hearing Thursday morning on drilling rates on public and private land.

Federal figures show that oil and gas production is at record levels and the country’s dependence on foreign oil has dropped, the sportsmen’s coalition noted. However, some members of Congress are promoting legislation that would speed up leasing and drilling on federal lands – in spite of the fact that more than 7,000 drilling permits currently aren’t being used and leases on nearly 21 million acres are sitting idle.

“Some lawmakers and industry officials look at the increased drilling on private lands and conclude industry is being locked out of public lands. That’s not the case,’’ said Kate Zimmerman, public lands policy director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Besides, public lands are different from private lands. They’re managed for more than private profits. Federal land managers have an obligation to conserve fish and wildlife and recreation values, all of which are critical to the long-term economic vitality of many communities in the West.’’

Hunters and anglers support responsible energy development on public lands and welcome recent common-sense leasing reforms that address potential conflicts upfront and have reduced the number of lease protests.

“Energy development on public lands that doesn’t consider its impacts on fish, wildlife and air and water quality fails to fulfill the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mandate and irreparably damages our nation’s outdoor heritage,’’ said Ed Arnett,  director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Responsible Energy Development. “It creates conflict and delays for companies and results in the kinds of poorly planned energy projects that drove down mule deer populations in western Wyoming and are increasing air pollution in parts of the Rocky Mountain West.’’

No one, including sportsmen, likes unnecessary regulations and rules, Fisher said.

“But we don’t think the measures in place to ensure balanced development are unduly blocking leasing and drilling. They’re helping maintain quality hunting and angling, which help sustain rural economies across the country,’’ he added. “Sportsmen in Montana, and throughout the West, rely on public lands to fill their freezers, make memories and pass on our traditions to our sons and daughters.’’

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.

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