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One of the great things about this country is that when people come together they are very strong, and we need to come together to understand our natural resources, and how important natural resources are to future generations – Fernando Clemente, New Mexico Wildlife Federation Board Member and Wildlife Biologist

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Fernando Clemente, New Mexico Wildlife Services and NM Wildlife Federation board member with a Montezuma Quail. Photo by Lew Carpenter

I stepped in close to the desert scrub where I thought the fleeing Montezuma Quail had landed. These quail hold tight and I was right on top of one when it exploded up in front of me blasting out to my left. I pulled in line and my view suddenly clouded with a dense tree foiling my shot. I looked further left and saw Clemente smoothly and effortlessly raise his shotgun and drop the dynamic bird.

 

We were a mere 20 minutes into our Montezuma Quail (also known as Mearns Quail) hunt when the first covey had been busted. Field & Stream reporter Hal Herring had dropped a bird from that first flush and, apparently, I had become the bird dog for Clemente’s kill – both flushing and retrieving for him.

 

Our group had joined just a few miles from the US-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest of New Mexico’s bootheel, just south of Animas. We were six – plus three dogs – out to hunt Montezuma Quail and talk wildlife impacts of a proposed border wall. Sixty percent of the Chihuahua desert grasslands are gone and further fragmentation of this essential habitat and its wildlife corridors would be devastating if a border wall is built.

 

“Some animals, because of their size, avoid predators, humans, autos and structures,” Clemente said. “So when they see a structure in the distance like the proposed wall, they will not even go near. So when you talk about home range and habitat for a species, it will be totally disrupted – from California to Texas.”

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Impressive tall-grass habitat of the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico. Photo By Lew Carpenter

New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) staff member Gabe Vasquez, board member Fernando Clemente and past NMWF board chair Ray Trejo – plus Field & Stream’s Hal Herring and Tom Fowlks (photographer) – were all on site to camp, hunt and expose a magnificent ecosystem filled with tall grasslands, wooded hills, Coues deer, bear, desert bighorn sheep and…oh yes, quail.

Vasquez organized the trip. He also authored the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Border Wall policy resolution, which was ratified by 51 NWF state affiliates during the 2017 NWF annual meeting in Stevenson, Washington. He is also a Las Cruces City Councilman and heads the Nuestra Tierra conservation program for NMWF.

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From top left: Fernando Clemente, Lew Carpenter, Gabe Vasquez. Bottom from left: Ray Trejo, Hal Herring. Photo by Tom Fowlks

“Under recent Congressional bills there have been environmental waivers granted for construction of any type of structure for border security,” Vasquez said. “New Mexico Legislators this year pushed back strongly with legislation that would trigger a state-version of NEPA or EIS anytime the federal government wants to come in and do a land swap with the state of New Mexico to facilitate the construction of any property, where there are no environmental laws required (like Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act). It received strong support and passed out of a House committee.”

“So clearly here in New Mexico we place a high value on our land – and when people talk about state’s rights – well here’s a federal decision that comes with the power to decimate our state’s recreation economy, our wildlife and our culture, and we don’t want it,” Vasquez continued. “People talk all the time about state’s rights and some of these folks are the same ones who want the wall, but you can’t have it both ways. This is terrible for sportsmen and women in New Mexico and terrible for anyone else who uses these public lands.”

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Gabe Vasquez, Las Cruces City Councilman, NM Wildlife staffer and leader of Nuestra Tierra. Photo by Lew Carpenter

NMWF’s Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, a program that helps underserved and Hispanic communities connect with the outdoors, has been advocating against the border wall since its inception, and the following is from its factsheet:

 

President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a massive border wall across the U.S.-Mexico border is misguided, xenophobic, technically infeasible, and will deteriorate the country’s relationship with Mexico.

 

A massive border wall, on the scale that Trump has proposed, will also have a tremendously negative impact on wildlife and the natural environment.

 

Disrupting the flow of water

  • In many places across the border, existing fences already act as dams during periods of heavy rainfall, which cause severe soil erosion, degraded habitat for wildlife, and flooding in rural and urban population centers. A concrete wall would likely amplify these existing problems.
  • According to the National Park Service, the pooling of water against existing border fences in Arizona has already caused severe soil erosion and damage to riparian vegetation.
  • When it rains in Palomas, Mexico, which neighbors Columbus, N.M., the town’s streets, many of them dirt roads, flood badly. Engineers have concluded that the existing border fencing and infrastructure is largely to blame. Additional and larger border infrastructure could severely flood our southern neighbors by altering the course of naturally flowing arroyos, impacting both their health, infrastructure, and economy.

 

Severe disruption to wildlife habitat

  • Reinforced fencing – in particular solid walls – along the Southwest border will continue to disrupt the migratory ranges of wildlife in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts and their endangered species.
  • Current border fences have already hindered efforts to save the native jaguar, which was listed as an endangered species since 1977 and is slowly recovering from near extinction. Restricting the movement of these creatures will almost certainly eliminate their ability to reach their traditional breeding areas.
  • The current wall has seriously hampered the distribution of the ferruginous pygmy-owl and bighorn sheep and could isolate other endangered populations of large mammals, particularly in Arizona’s Sky Island region, including black bears.

 

Building a massive border wall to divide these two great nations will destroy the cultural heritage that the land represents to its modern day inhabitants and will severely impact wildlife habitat and endanger binational communities. Nuestra Tierra strongly believes that to preserve our frontera culture, and to move forward as a nation, the border wall must not be built.

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From left: Gabe Vasquez, Hal Herring and Fernando Clemente. Photo by Lew Carpenter

“We need to act, Clemente said. “We need to come together. One of the great things about this country is when people come together they are very strong. And we need to come together to understand our natural resources, and how important natural resources are to future generations. The United States has always been the leader in wildlife management and the conservation of natural resources, and I don’t understand why we would head down this route (of a border wall).”

 

Trejo fortified that notion, “We work very hard to articulate just that, on the landscape and on the border. It is our responsibility to bring people who are making decisions down (to the border), and to look at the landscape – otherwise they don’t understand. We are connected with Mexico and we have always been connected with Mexico. And that wall is going to create a barrier that impacts the ecosystem that spans the border, and what happens to the people, the wildlife, the habitat and the work between the countries?”

 

As we drove into the boot heel of New Mexico — the northern part of the Chihuahua Desert – the exotic landscape opened up with magnificent grasslands, mountain ranges and rich colors of gold, brown and green.

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Dog on point with Vasquez and Clemente. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Our campsite was at 5500 feet altitude and the temps ranged from 14 to 75 degrees.

 

Trejo, a high school administrator in these parts, brought his two German short haired pointers and Clemente, who owns NM Specialized Wildlife Services, brought his pointer as well. Both men are experts in wildlife conservation and Clemente manages wildlife populations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

“We are supposed to be a country that creates relations, and I hope that nothing will happen, but if the wall gets created, what will happen to those relations?” Clemente rhetorically asked. “And what do I mean by that? I’m going to talk about waterfowl, migratory birds, and many people say that ‘They can fly over the wall,’ but that’s not the point. The point is there are tri-lateral meetings every year between the US, Canada and Mexico.

 

“They meet to create a management plan for the migratory birds, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of that within the Central Flyway. And they get to get together and talk about everything from habitat restoration and resting places (wildlife refuges) all the way to bag limits and how many each country harvests,” Clemente continued. “Why is that? Because they fly from Canada to Mexico and then back each year. It’s not a species that somebody owns – everybody owns them, and their habitat, and home range is from Canada to Mexico, so that’s the way it needs to be managed. So let’s say there is a break in our relationships, and now they don’t care because we don’t care about them – so we will change things to keep more birds for us. The problem is that if we start changing how we manage those migratory birds in order to keep numbers for each country, what will happen in 20 years?”

 

The same could be said about relations on Sonoran pronghorn, Coues deer, desert bighorn sheep – just a few in the game species category.

 

“We have a great population of Goulds turkeys because of releases from Mexico, and Mexico is doing great with Gould’s turkeys – almost half the country has Gould’s turkeys,” Clemente said. “So all those relationships have been created to build population sustainability with wildlife populations. If we damage that then it will be 10 times harder to be able to sustain a wildlife population. Now, with that being said, what kind of message are we sending to the wildlife biologists and ecologists about all that work from the past? When we build that wall we are saying we don’t care about the work.”

 

Heading out into the National Forest I was struck by the glowing, golden high grasses – excellent quail habitat. The quality of the landscape was like nothing I had seen further north. Un-grazed public land as far as the eye could see – challenging us as we searched for quail.

 

Tracking along a small wash, which was wooded along the southern face, we came upon that first covey and flush. Holding a Montezuma in my hand for the first time, I could easily see what the fuss was about with these birds. To detail all its beauty in words would be nearly impossible considering the diversity of colors and patterns throughout its plumage.

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Montezuma Quail. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Exploring a small slice of this incredible grassland ecosystem was a gift. Thick golden fields of grass; rocky, woodland washes and hills; and open space without structure extending well beyond sight (with occasional groups of Coues deer busting forth).

 

“Culturally we refer to this little piece on the landscape as the border, but it’s a landscape just like any other,” Vasquez said. “It is diverse, it is beautiful and to us it is our home. It is becoming more dangerous to us as we see what is happening in Congress.”

 

I admit, it’s hard to weave a hunting story with an issue as significant, deep and connected to so many people, cultures and conservation values. The hunt left a mark on me. The conversation about the wildlife impacts of a border wall left an impact on me. My life is forever changed by this type of experience, when being present in a special place merges with responsible, pragmatic dialogue about common values. And when we connect with each other physically in a place that is meaningful, one can’t help but be transformed forever.

 

And, while we sought both Montezuma and Blue (Scaled) quail, we encountered Gamble’s quail, too – all remarkable game birds. Afternoons in this area beg a hat trick. Though I didn’t shoot as well as I would like, the hunt will be one of my greatest sporting memories. The combination of epic habitat, spectacular wildlife and the best of companions (dogs included) made the trip truly special.

 

I am invested in my role with conservation, and even more invested in my relationships, but to be in a place that not only connects people and culture from two nations, and touches upon the values of wild places and wildlife, I can’t help but be transformed even further in my resolve to protect the things I love – people, wildlife, heritage and the vast beauty of the public estate.

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The South Platte at Elevenmile Canyon, Colorado. Photo by Rich Holland

The South Platte at Elevenmile Canyon, Colorado. Photo by Rich Holland

Former Interior Secretary Salazar, NWF CEO and affiliates say keep public lands public

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s CEO and president, and business and conservation leaders Thursday to speak out for conserving America’s public lands and against attempts to sell or get rid of the lands that sustain fish and wildlife populations as well as hunting, fishing and the country’s multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.

The National Wildlife Federation’s 49 state affiliates have unanimously approved a resolution that calls for keeping public lands in public hands and opposes large-scale exchanges, sales or giveaways of federally managed lands. This week, 41 of the state affiliates sent a letter to the Republican National Committee asking that it rescind a resolution adopted this year that urges Congress to turn over public lands to the Western states that want them.

The affiliates noted that public lands help grow America’s economy by supporting an outdoor recreation industry that generates $646 billion in economic benefit annually and supports 6.1 million jobs. The organizations stressed that wise stewardship of the lands that belong to all Americans is a long tradition that cuts across political and social lines.

Shadow Mountain Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Shadow Mountain Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

“Despite the economic importance of federal lands to wildlife and people, they remain under constant threat. In recent years, several state legislative proposals have called on the federal government to transfer ownership of public lands to the states, which in turn would pass them off to private interests in many instances,” the organizations wrote.

The Interior Department’s latest annual economic report shows the agency’s programs and activities generated $360 billion in benefits and supported more than 2 million jobs nationwide in fiscal 2013. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar started preparing the reports in 2009 to highlight the department’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

“The nation’s public lands are the birthright and priceless heritage of all Americans. Our policymakers and elected leaders should be working to preserve and enhance these multiple use economic engines,” said Salazar, who served as Interior secretary from 2009 to 2013.

The National Wildlife Federation is on the front lines of conserving fish and wildlife and the places where they live, and in large part those places are public lands, O’Mara said.

“The National Wildlife Federation, our 49 state affiliates, and four million members and supporters strongly support keeping our public lands in public hands. As a diverse federation of hunters, anglers, hikers, wildlife watchers, and nature lovers, we are united in our passion for protecting public lands, which provide amazing outdoor experiences for all Americans, landscapes for deer, elk, pronghorn, and bison herds to migrate, forests for grizzlies, bighorn sheep and lynx, and critical habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 1,000 species of fish and 250 reptile and amphibian species. For more than a century, protecting land for the benefit all outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife has been an essential element of the American experience—and we must pass on this legacy to future generations,” O’Mara said.

The wildlife federations have worked through the years to conserve the public lands necessary for fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing and will continue to do, said David Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation executive director.

“Every few decades this idea of selling off public land pops up, and public opinion always beats it back. Meanwhile, the challenges facing our national forests and other public lands have continued to grow,” Chadwick added. “We need our elected officials to quit wasting time on these speculative, ideological proposals and instead take action on the common-sense, collaborative efforts under way all over the country to improve land management.”

Hanging Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Hanging Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Surveys and polls show overwhelming support for public lands among voters in the West, the target of many of the drives to dispose of public land. That support extends beyond the region to other parts of the country where hunters, anglers and other wildlife enthusiasts enjoy the backcountry, rivers and forests, said Tim Gestwicki, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation CEO.

“Sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers in the Southeast value our public lands, from the Appalachians to the coast. We also value the Western lands and their abundant wildlife, big open spaces and great hunting and fishing. We stand with our fellow sportsmen and women in defending public lands and protecting the special places that offer some of the best of what this country is about,” Gestwicki said.

“Sportsmen are on the front line in this effort to prevent the transfer of federal public lands. These are the very lands where we hunt and fish, and where we pass on those traditions to our kids. The idea that somehow our federal public lands are dispensable is an affront to all hunters and anglers, and we are determined to protect these lands for ourselves and for future generations,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

America’s national parks, monuments and rugged landscapes are not only a draw for people in this country, but across the world, said Peter Metcalf, CEO and president of Black Diamond, Inc., a leading manufacturer of outdoor sports equipment and clothing.

“No other country in the world has the public land infrastructure that we have. There’s such a richness of landscape and wildlife. Our public lands and outdoor recreation and lifestyles are coveted by people around the world and are a draw for communities and employers competing for new businesses and workers,” Metcalf said. “Black Diamond’s brand is synonymous with these iconic landscapes that capture the imagination of people all over the world. In addition they are a source of inspiration for our designers, engineers and marketing people.”

Additional Resources: `Valuing our Public Lands: Safeguarding our Economy and Way of Life,’

National Wildlife Federation affiliates’ resolution on transfer of public lands.

NWF affiliates’ letter on transfer, sale of public lands.

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Years of work by sportsmen and others in Doña Ana County came to fruition in late May when President Obama created Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The designation protects hunting and other traditional uses such as camping, hiking and grazing. The new monument covers nearly 500,000 acres in three sections. The BLM will continue to manage the monument.

“This is a great day,” said John Cornell (at right in image), president of Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen and the southern New Mexico organizer for New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Sportsmen, many of whom own local businesses, have been reaching out to community leaders and elected officials to make permanent protection of these important lands a reality for a decade. We have all been committed because of what these lands and wildlife mean to us and will one day mean to our kids’ outdoor opportunity and potential livelihood.”

Lifelong Las Cruces hunter Jim Bates (above left) added, “To many, this national monument effort has mainly been about protecting the iconic view Las Cruces residents and visitors enjoy on a daily basis. But for hunters and outdoorsmen like me, much more was at stake. We knew how much we stood to lose if the Potrillos, Robledos or Sierra de Las Uvas were covered in wind turbines or big box stores.”

It is the second monument designated in New Mexico in 14 months. Rio Grande del Norte National Monument protects about 230,000 acres of BLM. New Mexico Wildlife Federation worked with elected officials, agencies and other organizations to ensure that hunting, fishing and other traditional uses will continue in both monuments.

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Colorado mule deer. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Colorado mule deer. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Heat, Drought, Disease Target Big Game and Their Habitats, Threaten Outdoor Traditions

 

Rising temperatures, deeper droughts and more extreme weather events fueled by manmade climate change are making survival more challenging for America’s treasured big game wildlife from coast to coast, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. Nowhere to Run: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World details how climate change is already putting many species of big game at risk, creating an uncertain future for big game and the outdoor economy that depends on them.

 

“The recovery of big game species is one of America’s wildlife conservation success stories, made possible in large part by sustained investment by generations of sportsmen,” said Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation “But today, a changing climate threatens to rewrite that success story.”

 

Wildfire, floods and extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall, are becoming more frequent and more severe. Unprecedented changes in habitat are having far-reaching consequences for big game and for sportsmen and women, affecting, for example, the timing of hunting seasons and the distribution and survival of animals.

“We’re already seeing changes where we hunt big game – reduced snowpack, dying forests, shifting migration patterns,” said Todd Tanner, founder and chairman of Conservation Hawks. “We have to let our elected officials know that we need solutions and we need them now. We’re running out of time.”

 

Nowhere to Run takes a comprehensive look at the best available science on climate change’s impacts on big game, covering moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and black bears. The most significant effects include:

 

·         Heat: Moose can become heat-stressed in warm weather, especially in summer if temperatures climb above 60 to70 degrees when moose coats are thinner. Heat stress leads to lower weights, declining pregnancy rates and increased vulnerability to predators and disease. Because of warmer fall and winter temperatures, black bears are already more active than usual during times when they normally conserve energy through hibernation, pushing fat stores to the limit.

·         Drought: More droughts have reduced aspen forests in the west, a favorite elk habitat, and many elk are not migrating as much as they traditionally have. Increasing periods of drought, more invasive plants and wildfires will alter sagebrush and grassland ecosystems, favored pronghorn habitats.

·         Parasites and disease: With less snowpack to kill ticks, moose in New Hampshire are literally being eaten alive, losing so much blood to ticks that they die of anemia. White-tailed deer are susceptible to hemorrhagic disease caused by viruses transmitted by biting midges.

“Cutting carbon pollution is the key in the long run, but in the short term we must also take action to help big game survive the climate changes we’re already seeing,” said Dr. Robert Brown, former dean of North Carolina State University’s College of Natural Resources and former president of The Wildlife Society. “We can do this by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation and managing big game populations with a changing climate in mind. But with investments in wildlife research at a generational low, policymakers risk making these decisions in the dark.”

 

In 2011, there were more than 12 million adult big game hunters who spent more than $16 billion on hunting.  More than 22 million people observed big game near their homes and 10 million traveled to view big game.  Sportsmen have invested decades and millions of dollars in restoring big game habitats and populations, in excise taxes, hunting and fishing licenses and fees.

“Not only are our sporting traditions at risk, but jobs-producing tourism dollars could decline as there will be fewer wildlife to see in America’s wild places,” saidLarry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “To protect America’s outdoor heritage, we must cut carbon pollution, speed our transition to clean energy and safeguard big game and their habitats from climate change.”

Nowhere to Run outlines the key steps needed to stem climate change and save big game:

 

1.      Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.

2.      Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels and avoid polluting energy like coal and tar sands oil.

3.      Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.

4.      Factor a changing climate in big game plans and management.

 

The National Wildlife Federation is also running radio ads educating sportsmen about climate change’s threat to moose in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and New Hampshire. The version running in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Montana is available here: http://bit.ly/MooseRadioAd-MT. The New Hampshire ad is available here: http://bit.ly/MooseRadioAd-NH.

 

Read the report at NWF.org/SportsmenNowhere to Run is the latest in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2013 Wildlife in a Warming World series:

 

·         Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis

·         Shifting Skies: Migratory Birds in a Warming World

·         Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World

 

Get more National Wildlife Federation news at NWF.org/News.

***

 

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

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Rich Holland, fishing and hunting content director for SmartEtailing.com holds up a nice Elevenmile Reservoir cutthroat trout. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Urgent Action Needed to Protect America’s Outdoor Heritage

America’s coldwater fish habitat could decline by 50 percent within the lifetime of a child born today thanks to climate change, according to a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation. Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World details how climate change is warming lakes, rivers and streams and making existing stresses worse, creating an uncertain future for America’s freshwater fishing traditions and the jobs that depend on them.

“More extreme heat and drought are already causing big problems for fish that rely on cold, clean water – and the warming we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Doug Inkley, National Wildlife Federation senior scientist and one of the lead authors of Swimming Upstream. “We can protect America’s outdoor heritage, but only if we act now to cut industrial carbon pollution, invest in clean energy, and make communities and habitats more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

Climate change is warming our lakes, rivers and streams causing:

· Habitat loss for many cold-water species

· Exacerbation of existing stressors, such as habitat loss, polluted water, invasive species and
disease

· Increased competition from warm-water species

“Temperature increases of even a few degrees can have dramatic impacts, harming iconic game fish like salmon, trout and walleye and giving a leg up to destructive invaders like sea lamprey,” said Jack Williams, Trout Unlimited senior scientist and one of the lead authors of Swimming Upstream. “We need to manage our water resources in a way that ensures that both people and fish have the clean, cool, and abundant water they need to survive.”

Climate change is affecting seasonal patterns and loading the dice for extreme weather:

· Warmer, shorter winters with less snow and ice cover can shift stream flows and water
availability in the spring and summer. Reduced ice cover also means many lakes are too thin
for safe ice fishing, a popular recreation in many northern locales.

· More extreme weather events —especially more intense droughts, heat waves and wildfires
— can increase fish mortality.

· More frequent droughts reduce stream flows and kill streamside vegetation which helps to cool streams. Less water during droughts reduces available habitat and the remaining water warms faster, leaving fewer cool or cold-water refuges for fish.

“Here in North Carolina, fishing is a critical economic driver. More than a million anglers spent over $574 million on freshwater fishing in 2011,” said Kelly Darden, North Carolina Wildlife Federation board member. “For North Carolina sportsmen, it’s not about politics. It’s about a simple question: What’s your plan to confront climate change and protect our outdoor heritage?”

Swimming Upstream outlines actions needed to address climate change and ensure a thriving fishing tradition. To confront the climate crisis’ threats to fish, wildlife and communities we must:

· Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.
· Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and
next-generation biofuels while avoiding dirty energy choices like coal and tar sands oil.
· Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
· Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising
sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.

“Sportsmen are on the front lines of conservation. They’re already seeing changes where they fish and they know we can’t leave this problem for our children and grandchildren to deal with,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We need action on the local, state and federal levels to cut industrial carbon pollution, invest in clean energy, and make communities and habitats more resilient to the impacts of climate change. President Obama’s plan to act on climate is a major step in the right direction.”

Read the report at NWF.org/FishAndClimate.

More of NWF’s reports connecting the dots between climate change and extreme weather are available at NWF.org/ExtremeWeather. Get more National Wildlife Federation news at NWF.org/News.

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The West is filled with iconic landscapes, most of them public. With rod in hand, shotgun or rifle shouldered, most of us have experienced the bounty public lands provide. And from our earliest days in the field when any body of water or forest held unseen potential, to our current, often thoughtfully planned excursions, public lands have always been there to provide opportunity.

A new report by the National Wildlife Federation highlights the value of public lands for hunters and anglers.

A new report by the National Wildlife Federation highlights the value of public lands for hunters and anglers.

For many, the true American dream is pursuing North America’s trophy big game on the West’s vast open spaces. It’s the epitome of DIY – a complete hunting or fishing trip in the West – and also a testament to our sporting nature. It’s all there: the planning, the practice, the pursuit, the stalk, the shot and the harvest.

This sporting heritage is hard to quantify on a personal level. The value of days spent afield alone or with great friends and family, transcends material possessions. The value of public lands, however, can be quantified. The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) new report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life, illustrates the value and scope of our western lands and sends a clear message that these lands define the American landscape and our national identity.

The bulk of the vast open spaces are in the West, where they have generated jobs and revenue from commodity production, tourism and recreation, including hunting and fishing. As the western economy changes from one dominated by natural resource production to one distinguished by knowledge- and service-based industries, conserving public lands becomes increasingly important as a magnet for businesses and employees seeking a high quality of life.

The NWF report can be found at: http://www.ourpubliclands.org/sites/default/files/files/NWF_PublicLands.pdf

This fat brown trout was caught on public lands on the South Platte, which the author has fished since childhood. Photo by Matt Vincent

This fat brown trout was caught on public lands on the South Platte, which the author has fished since childhood. Photo by Matt Vincent

Several recent studies and surveys within the report found that:

• Many communities near public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of economic, population and income growth and higher property values.

• The outdoor recreation industry, including fishing and hunting, contributes nearly $650 billion to the U.S. economy and supports more than 6 million jobs. Western public lands provide recreation for people from across the country and world.

• Americans invest nearly $39 billion annually in natural resource conservation, resulting in more than $93 billion in direct economic benefits.

• Extractive, commodity-based industries generate needed materials and energy and provide jobs and revenue, but have been cyclical and have become a smaller part of the overall economy.

“Public Lands are not just where I recreate; they are also where I get my food,” said Armond Acri, a retired chemical engineer who hunts big game and waterfowl. ” I hunt on National Forest, BLM lands, State and Federal Wildlife Refuges, and State Lands.  Each year I hunt grouse, ducks, geese, deer, elk and perhaps antelope.  In a few special years I have had the privilege to hunt bison and bighorn sheep.  Public Land helps me feed both my body and my soul.  I cannot put a price on Public Land, but I know it is one of my most valued possessions.  That is why I fight to preserve the Public Lands we all own.”

Intact habitat and unspoiled backcountry are essential to maintaining fish and wildlife habitat. Proposals to dispose or devalue

Energy development on public lands can eliminate wildlife's ability to migrate from summer to winter habitat as well as adjust to the growing effects of climate change.

Energy development on public lands can eliminate wildlife’s ability to migrate from summer to winter habitat as well as adjust to the growing effects of climate change.

the land threaten a crucial part of our economy. These proposals threaten the fundamental value of ensuring that lands belonging to all Americans stay open to everyone, now and in the future.

Through the NWF report a picture of the changing West emerges. Studies show that many communities near public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher employment, growth and income levels and higher property values. The service industries, which include health, finance and legal jobs, have diversified the economy and sustain communities when commodity-based industries experience downturns.

Industries traditionally associated with the West – logging, mining, oil and gas drilling – are still important and provide needed materials, but are often cyclical and have become a smaller part of the overall economy.

Former WON staffer Rich Holland is Fishing and Hunting Content Director for SmartEtailing.com, which offers web hosting and online commerce tools to 15,000 independent retailers affiliated with Big Rock Sports. His business, and countless others, lie at the heart of the public lands economy. But again, the value runs deeper than business.

“In the 1940s, my father was in his early teens when his family moved to Los Angeles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” said Holland. “He and his brother immediately discovered the great fishing and hunting available on public lands. That love of the outdoors was passed along to me and I still fish and hunt in many of the same places he frequented as a young man.

“On the other hand, quite a few of his favorite spots have been lost to encroaching development and government designations that prohibit the traditional activities of sportsmen,” he added. “Many of the retailers we work with are located adjacent to public lands, and not just in the West but along the Great Lakes, the Eastern Seaboard and the vast watershed of the Gulf Coast. These businesses rely on continued access to public lands for families who wish to fish and hunt.”

By conserving the cherished lands that drive economic growth, the American people and our national economy will be healthier

Pronghorn on western public lands need large landscapes for their long migration corridors to thrive. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Pronghorn on western public lands need large landscapes for their long migration corridors to thrive. Photo by Lew Carpenter

and more sustainable for generations to come.

So what does it all mean in today’s world? The report was created to bring the importance of public lands into the national dialogue. Several Western legislatures and members of Congress have shown they are out of touch with the public’s support for keeping public lands in public hands.

The last two congressional sessions, lawmakers introduced dozens of bills seeking to diminish protection of public land, require the federal government to sell millions of acres of the land or turn the land over to the states. State legislators and congressional members behind proposals to dispose of public lands claim that westerners believe federal management of the lands constrains natural resource development, thus depriving states of the economic benefits. In fact, the measures contradict the majority of western public opinion and threaten the region’s economy, which benefits from the diverse businesses attracted and supported by conserving public lands.

The next generation of anglers and hunters are relying on today’s sportsmen to conserve fish and wildlife habitat so they have the same opportunities to recreate on public lands. Photo by Lew Carpenter

The next generation of anglers and hunters are relying on today’s sportsmen to conserve fish and wildlife habitat so they have the same opportunities to recreate on public lands. Photo by Lew Carpenter

As a sportsman from the West I have fished from Alaska to the Gulf Coast, Baja to Idaho – and many places in between – almost exclusively on public lands. Certainly there is a place for the magnificent private-land opportunities in North America – but for the common man, nothing beats the landscapes his forefathers created, paid for with his tax dollars, equipment purchases and license fees, and which is waiting with open arms for him to conserve for his children and the generations to follow.

If you care about this American heritage, your access to public lands and wildlife, and your ability to share this with your children and grandchildren, then you need to inform yourself about the positions your elected officials are taking on public lands issues. Moreover, you need to communicate your positions to your elected officials. This is the essence of representative democracy and it is more important than ever in a time when big money is exerting enormous influence.

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The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is the legislation that Congress uses to determine policy for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and to decide which water projects will get built.

Getting this bill right is critical for maintaining the health of our nation’s rivers, streams, wetlands and coastlines—and the people, jobs, and wildlife that depend on these resources. Unfortunately, the current WRDA is moving at a speed that precludes public discussion of its provisions. The bill was introduced just 3 weeks ago on a Friday evening, marked up the following Wednesday, and now seems likely to end up before the entire Senate on Wednesday.20130409-074910.jpg

Unfortunately, this version of WRDA contains two provisions (sections 2033 and 2032) that strike at the heart of our nation’s environmental review process. They will obstruct not only reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, but also under the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and other landmark environmental laws.

These two sections must be removed from the final bill before passage. If passed into law as it is, this bill:

• Will limit scientific analysis and drive bad decisions Environmental review documents are often hundreds of pages long and full of dense scientific language: the accelerated deadlines in this bill will not give members of the public or agencies such as the USFWS or the EPA time to read one of these reviews—let alone to consult experts and perform the analyses necessary to draft informed public comments. Among many other problems, these provisions direct the Corps to fine agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service up to $20,000 a week for missing the arbitrary and accelerated deadlines and will let the Corps send even technical disagreements to the President. To try to avoid these fines and higher level reviews, agencies — already facing restricted budgets — will rush to complete reviews without all the information or performing independent analyses, increasing the likelihood that unnecessarily destructive projects will be approved. Good science takes time, and this legislation simply does not give experts enough time to make informed decisions.

• Will not speed up project construction The review process is not the main cause of delays in federal water projects. Delays are driven by funding constraints, the Corps’ $60–80 billion project backlog, and the Corps’ insistence on planning highly destructive and controversial projects when less damaging approaches are available. These streamlining provisions are being driven by ideology, and will not a make a practicable difference in speeding up construction.

• Will move water planning backwards The bill will allow the corps to continue planning unnecessarily costly and destructive projects instead of using low impact solutions — for example, reconnecting streams with floodplains— which are frequently the most cost-effective way to solve water planning challenges.

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