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The author’s dog, Bartok “Hugo” Ahornzwinger, is a wirehaired dachshund, a breed often used to track wounded big game. He just passed his first field test for United Blood Trackers. Photo by Matt Vincent

As hunters put in for big game tags in Arizona and begin thinking about plans this fall there is one aching gap in Arizona Game and Fish regulations that needs to be addressed – the ability for hunters to access game recovery dogs to find wounded game.

 

Tracker Scott Gillespie, Lucy (dachshund), Lynas and recovered elk.

Forty three states allow tracking dogs as a reliable conservation component to reduce waste of big game species. In the vast majority of states the dog is required to be on a lead and in constant control by the handler. Most inveterate hunters have experienced the loss of a wounded animal at some point in their history. Those that haven’t are both lucky and, likely, take close approach shots with a rifle or the pull of their bow. But we all know the advances in optics, ammo and archery equipment provide opportunities for longer take downs – and also the opportunity to critically wound an animal that still has enough juice left to evade harvest.

Scott Gillespie and Lucy (dachshund) on a recovered black bear.

Game recovery dogs can solve many of these lost target issues during what becomes a stressful and emotional moment for hunters. The results can be amazing and salvage what may be the trophy elk, mule deer, Coues deer or bear of a lifetime (and one that possibly cost decades of bonus points to garner).

 

“A strong case can be made for the use of tracking dogs, both as a means of reducing animal suffering, and as a way of reducing the waste of a valuable natural resource,” says John Jeanneney in his landmark book Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer. “There are political and social implications involved that cannot be disregarded”

 

Efforts by United Blood Trackers of America, which has a searchable database of tracker contact info and resources on tracking and recovering big game, has transformed the conservation landscape by working to get state game and fish regulations in line with contemporary conservation concepts. In the West, too, there are social media landing spots like Rocky Mountain Big Game Recovery on Facebook that can guide hunters to being prepared for hunting season and lessons about arrow or rifle impact zones and what that means for recovering wounded game. In many cases, recovery dogs can be used at little to no cost compared to the financial outlay of the overall hunt itself.

Joe Bradley and a recovered mule deer that was partially consumed by a bear.

“Tracking is a serious business. It is about recovering a wounded animal that might be still alive, in great distress and pain,” according to Steven McGonigal and Julia Szeremeta in their book The International Working Teckel. “It all starts with the hit spot and a description from the hunter what has happened – an experienced tracker is like a detective, putting all the information together to determine whether and when to start tracking. Depending on the shot placement, the wounded animal needs time to expire.”

Hopefully, the Arizona Game and Fish agency can address this gap in hunting regulations and in the future consider allowing the use of tracking dogs (on a 30-foot lead) for recovering wounded game. Hunters will be grateful, and the resource will be more healthy and cared for as a result. For more information go to www.unitedbloodtrackers.org or visit the Facebook site for Rocky Mountain Big Game Recovery to chat with trackers throughout the region.

Reprinted courtesy of Arizona Wildlife Federation.

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Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Hard Country: A Lesser Prairie-Chicken Final Frontier

By Lew Carpenter

Reprinted with permission from the North American Grouse Partnership. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of the Grouse Partnership News.

Thirty years of drought has been tough on lesser prairie-chickens in eastern New Mexico. The hard scrabble country leaves little opportunity for a bird that once exploded skyward by the hundreds throughout the landscape on any given day. And, while lesser prairie-chicken numbers have recently ticked up – offering hope that proper wildlife management and private landowner incentives will ultimately save this prince of the grasslands – so much still must be done.

 

Jim Weaver left his work – 18 years at Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Department of Ecology and Systematics where he focused on endangered species – to raise both a family and cattle on an eastern New Mexico ranch; plus to engage his passion, hunting with a falcon. Drought and the  inherent logistics of the remote ranch got the better of the cattle operation, but the lesser prairie-chickens are still there – not in the great numbers of the mid 70s, but with respectable populations that would not exist without landowner passion and respect for the habitat.

 

“It’s not what people think about when they think of a beautiful New Mexico Ranch. We are out on the eastern side where the country has been beat up for so long it’s hard to find a place that easily fits the travel brochure – let’s put it that way,” Weaver said.

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

The Weaver Ranch is on the High Plains where it’s nearly all been farmed at one time or another. The redeeming thing for Weaver is that this was where all the prairie chickens were, which means at least from that standpoint everything was looking pretty good.

 

“We started off buying a couple of sections down here and it was $40 an-acre-land if that sort of puts things in perspective – so at that point a couple of sections wasn’t that big of a deal for someone still holding down a university job,” he said. “So, at any rate, that’s how we started, and over time other pieces and properties came together and we ended up with roughly 30,000 acres of this kind of country over the past 30 or 40 years.”

 

When Weaver put together a cattle operation he did things a little differently than others. He started out with some Mashona cattle, a tribal breed of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, that he ran into over in Africa when he was there doing bird research, and brought that breed over here through an independent USDA import protocol and started them in 1995. “That was more-or-less a success and it was great having the breed here. But we sold out of those cattle probably six or seven years ago,” he said. “We’d had a couple of exceptionally dry years, even for the overall drought, and we could no longer make that pencil out on a normal kind of cattle operation, so we sold out and went back to just worrying about prairie-chickens, more-or-less, and continuing to improve the land and get it back in shape where we thought it was optimal lesser prairie-chicken habitat.” Habitat on the ranch has been improved during the years and, along with the deep sand and hard flats, it has more than a hundred pastures of various sizes with some irrigated pastures running organic alfalfa. The improvements have been good for the chickens, keeping them alive by providing access to water and insects in those pastures.

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

“In the beginning, for a period of three or four years in the early to mid-70s, you could easily see a thousand chickens in a day,” Weaver said. “I was hunting chickens back then, and other game birds, with a falcon. And we would use pointing dogs, too. We were camping down here in those days and we were out there every day. Many, many times we would see three or four hundred fly right over the top of our camp.”

 

It’s hard to say what the total population was back then since there was no real effort to figure it out, according to Weaver. If the birds were gone folks would just say they’ll be back like they always have, but it has taken a lot longer than anyone anticipated.

 

“I’ve always been one of the people that’s been against the listing of the birds,” he said. “All management and control of a species rests with the US Fish and Wildlife Service once they are federally listed as Threatened or Endangered. But there just isn’t any money to do anything once they are listed. And this goes back to my time at Cornell years ago with endangered species. It’s just the worst thing in the world when you start inhibiting people’s ability to work with wildlife – at least from a wildlife management standpoint – if you can’t get in there quick and get your hands on something to make a difference then you’re pretty much dead in the water.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

However, in Weaver’s mind there’s always hope. It really depends on whether the remaining habitat can be optimized with such little suitable habitat left in New Mexico – just two or three counties still have appropriate habitat, and very small portions of those counties. In addition, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments in the area have been cut to their lowest in the country making it difficult to convince farmers to get on board. “They don’t even pay them enough now to cover their expenses,” Weaver said. “And then they cut out the mid-management contract and cost sharing and so on. So the farmers’ incentive is to plow it back up and we’ve seen a couple of leks plowed out of expired CRP. In this area its mostly classified as Highly Erodible Soil that has suffered by wind erosion since the Dust Bowl days. That’s one of the saddest things about it. Private landowners are willing to help, but they need to get paid.”

 

Mesquite and shinnery oak were Weaver’s biggest problems on the ranch when he arrived. And they still are a problem today, sucking what little moisture the landscape receives, preventing the grass from growing. Lesser prairie-chickens need residual grass for nesting habitat, but you can’t have residual grass unless you have grass in the first place. “The shinnery oak prevents the grass from becoming dominant again in the way it used to be back in pre-European times, and you’re up against that battle all the time,” Weaver said. “Mesquite is another big problem because chickens avoid places where the mesquite is more than three or four feet tall, so you’ve got to get rid of the mesquite.”

 

Weaver thinks the chickens could probably survive on a managed, million-acre complex. It doesn’t all have to be adjacent parcels, but they need to be close enough – not blocked by another wind farm or some high-tension wires, or something else that further breaks up the habitat that’s available.

 

“It’s really all they have left,” he said. “There’s really no place else for them to go. It’s absolutely the end of the line for the New Mexico lesser prairie-chicken if people don’t really start paying attention. New Mexico Game and Fish has been great. They’ve got chicken areas all over the place but they lack management money. But we’ve lined up some of those places for the Game and Fish to buy and it’s worked out great, and we’ve got a charitable foundation that buys acres when they become available to try to hold them for conservation-minded people that may want to buy them later, whether that be private folks, NM Game and Fish or US Fish and Wildlife Service – whoever might come along when they are solvent enough to want to make these kinds of conservation investments.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Opportunities for the million acres of lesser prairie-chicken habitat could include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The BLM assets in this area aren’t all the best chicken habitat, but they do own some of it, and the BLM has made some positive strides, according to Weaver. “They’ve changed some of their grazing regimes around, which has been pretty unpopular for them in the ranching community, but it was the right thing to do to reestablish and maintain good habitat. There’s been no subsoil moisture here to speak of for almost 30 years. That moisture regime has to be returned and the brush has to be controlled and we might come back to a reasonable diversity of grasslands that will sustain these birds.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Currently, there are about 17 leks on Weaver’s ranch up from three to four at the lowest point. He saw a good year, last year, with almost a tripling of numbers of birds on lek in just that one season. He’s optimistic that there are plenty of people coming along that want to conserve the country, and with good wildlife management and private landowner incentives something significant could be done. “We’ve worked closely over the years with groups or agencies that offer grant or cost-share assistance for conservation work. US Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the NRCS Grasslands Reserve Program, Farm Services Agency EQIP and CRP programs, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish, New Mexico State Land Office, and Center of Excellence have all cooperated at some point. Folks want to do the best thing they can for the land and the wildlife and the habitat,” he said. “And they are proud of what they have to show for it when they do fix things up for game birds and for wildlife in general, which leads to better biodiversity overall.”

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Brand new coalition notches first win for science-based wildlife management


DENVER, CO – Colorado hunting, angling, and conservation organizations have joined forces in a new alliance, the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project (CWCP), for the purpose of providing a unified voice in supporting responsible wildlife management in the state. The alliance is celebrating early success with today’s defeat of Senate Bill 22-031, aimed at prohibiting the hunting of bobcat and mountain lions in the state.

The CWCP, which formally announced its alliance today on the east steps of the Colorado State Capitol, has courted the membership of twenty different national, state, and regional wildlife and conservation organizations. The alliance collectively represents tens-of-thousands of hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts across the state. The CWCP is steadfast in their commitment to ensure the responsible management of wildlife continues to be conducted by professional biologists and wildlife experts at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) informed by the best-available science.

“There has long been a need for sportsmen and women to unite around wildlife and conservation objectives and policies,” said Gaspar Perricone, former Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commissioner. “Today marks the beginning of that effort and I have every bit of confidence that CWCP will well serve the principle of science-based wildlife management now and in the future.”

Dan Gates, Chair of the Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management noted, “The hunting and angling community has provided over a century of support for Colorado’s wildlife populations while conserving their habitat. Our contributions have resulted in the establishment of 350 State Wildlife Areas and countless benefits to the recovery and sustainability of Colorado’s 960 wildlife species. We are proud of our contributions to wildlife and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation”

SB22-031 would have directly circumvented the statutory authority and expertise of CPW and the CPW Commission to advance the goals of special interests who do not reflect the opinion of the majority of Coloradans. The alliance directed thousands of calls and emails to members of the General Assembly in opposition to the bill, which resulted in three of the four original sponsors pulling their name from the bill.



The failure of SB22-031 to advance out of the Senate Agriculture Committee is a testament to the efforts of CWCP and their representation of responsible management of wildlife resources in Colorado. The Committee’s decision today demonstrates their understanding of the need for continued science-based wildlife management in the state and the role that hunters and anglers play in both funding and maintaining sustainable populations of game and non-games species alike in Colorado.

Member organizations of CWCP went on to say –

“Sustainable, regulated, science-based harvest as conducted by CPW does not preclude the benefits experienced by those who engage in wildlife viewing or photographic tourism, as the proponents of SB22-031 suggest,” said Ellary TuckerWilliams, Senior Coordinator, Rocky Mountain States for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.“When properly managed using the best available science by the experts at CPW, consumptive and non-consumptive user groups can coexist. CSF commends the Colorado House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee for supporting CPW’s role as the foremost experts in managing Colorado’s native felines as a public trust resource for all members of society, hunters included.”

“Defeating Senate Bill 31 is a great win for the CWCP and science-based wildlife management. I’m proud to have our volunteers, chapters and advocacy staff involved in the partnership and fighting on behalf of hunters and trappers. Safari Club International believes that sound science-based wildlife management involving hunting and trapping as the primary management tools, while maximizing opportunities for all huntable species, including cougars and bobcats, is necessary to the long-term health of wildlife,” said Laird Hamberlin, CEO, Safari Club International. “Hunters and trappers have long paid the way for conservation, both game and non-game wildlife, and maximizing opportunity for hunting and trapping is also key to long-term funding for all species.

“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation advocates for scientific wildlife management overseen by state wildlife agency biologists and game managers,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “We are confident the coalition members that came together to oppose this legislation will be powerful allies as we fight for habitat, public access and other hunting issues.”

“The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation has proven to be a successful system to restore and safeguard fish and wildlife and their habitats,” said Terry Meyers, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society. “The RMBS will continue to advocate for sound wildlife management in Colorado with our partner organizations in CWCP.”

“Wildlife needs to be managed using best-available science,” said Larry Desjardin, President of conservation group Keep Routt Wild. “This is a win for wildlife and wild places across the state, and we applaud the efforts from CWCP that made this result possible.”

“We support science-based wildlife management conducted by agency professionals. SB22-031 would have circumvented those protocols and set the dangerous precedent of removing wildlife management from qualified professionals. We are glad to see that common sense and science-based management prevailed, and hope that continues to be the case in the future,” said Aaron Kindle, Director of Sporting Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation

 

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Governor Polis speaks about the release Big Game Policy Report in Golden, Colorado

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

Governor Declares Habitat Connectivity Day 

GOLDEN — At an event in Golden today, Governor Polis, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in cooperation with the Department of Transportation (CDOT), released a report today detailing options to further protect Colorado’s wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors, and improve conditions for Colorado’s iconic big game species. The Governor also highlighted the state adding dedicated staff to work directly on this partnership, and support a comprehensive and collaborative approach between CDOT and DNR on the conservation of our wildlife and increased motorist safety.  

The report, “Opportunities to Improve Sensitive Habitat and Movement Route Connectivity for Colorado’s Big Game Species,” was produced at the direction of Governor Jared Polis in a 2019 Executive Order (EO), which acknowledged that increased human activity compounds  pressures on Colorado’s wildlife. The Governor’s Executive Order called on state agencies to expand collaboration and research, and propose potential strategies and policy solutions for alleviating habitat fragmentation and degradation.

The report highlights some of the challenges and threats facing Colorado’s wildlife which disrupt landscape connectivity and reduce the availability of functional habitat. These threats include roads and other infrastructure, industrial activities, residential growth, and outdoor recreation. Meanwhile, Colorado’s forest, sagebrush, and grassland ecosystems are already under strain from the impacts of climate change, wildfires, and persistent drought. As the climate changes, the habitats that wildlife rely on will change with it, and this report will help prioritize state policy, coordination and investment to support our wildlife and ecosystems best adapt to the changing climate. 

“Coloradans care deeply about protecting and preserving our state’s wildlife ecosystem and improving driver safety. Colorado is using all available tools and funding options to preserve wildlife habitats by reducing wildlife and vehicle collisions, reducing traffic delays, and ensuring that human activities protect wildlife,” said Governor Jared Polis. “I appreciate the work of the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation and I look forward to working with the Colorado legislature, local, federal and Tribal governments and private landowners in implementing many of the policy priorities laid out in this report.” 

The report examines a range of options to address these challenges, including implementing regulations for energy development and other land uses; improving infrastructure to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions; coordinating conservation funding; planning trails with wildlife in mind; and better incentivizing participation by industry and private landowners in voluntary habitat conservation efforts.

In recognition of the report the Governor also issued a proclamation to officially acknowledge September 29, 2021 as “Wildlife Habitat and Connectivity Day,” underscoring the importance for Colorado to conserve habitat for big game and other native wildlife species and improve connectivity along the routes that wildlife use to migrate across the landscape.

“A key conclusion of the report is that, while there is no single intervention that can resolve the complex challenges affecting Colorado’s big game populations and their habitat, we do have the tools to ensure that these species can continue to thrive in our state,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resource. “Recent efforts in the legislature, including the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Future Generations Act in 2018 and the Keep Colorado Wild Pass bill in 2021, will provide new funding sources and direction for Colorado’s wildlife and its habitat. Additionally, the state’s updated oil and gas regulations provide new tools and protections to balance energy development and wildlife needs. However, long term success will require a significant shift in priorities, and coordination across agencies, jurisdictions and sectors to provide the sustainable protection our big game species require.” 

“Today’s report showcases how our state agencies can work together in a meaningful way to explore innovative solutions– so that our programs can better respond to the evolving needs of  Colorado residents and our big game wildlife populations,” said Dan Prenzlow, Director, Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Our goals remain working through challenges such as habitat fragmentation, development demand, varied jurisdictions and much-needed funding to find opportunities to create cooperative solutions that help conserve our wildlife.”  

CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew also recognized the need to improve transportation infrastructure that allows wildlife to safely cross highways and roads.

“Wildlife-vehicle collisions pose a risk to people and wildlife alike. An average of 3,300 these incidents are reported to CDOT every year, many of which result in injury to passengers and animal mortality, not to mention thousands of dollars in property damage. There is a significant need to increase funding for wildlife infrastructure, such as under- or overpasses, which we know can be highly effective at improving public safety and conditions for wildlife,” said Director Lew. 

DNR and CDOT conducted extensive research and outreach, and examined approaches by other states in shaping the recommendations put forth in the report. A status update released by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife (CPW) in 2020 and joint CDOT-CPW study also informed recommendations. 

The Colorado Wildlife Federation, Hispanics Enjoying Camping and Hiking in the Outdoors, Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wildlife Federation and other Coloradans and wildlife advocates participated in today’s event.

“Colorado’s wildlife community appreciates the Governor’s and First Gentleman’s leadership in elevating attention to this important issue,” added Colorado Wildlife Federation Director, Suzanne O’Neill. “We can and must work together to make progress before opportunities are lost.” 

“Connected, healthy lands are critical for people, too, so it’s important to engage all Coloradans in finding solutions,” said HECHO Program Director, Bianca McGrath-Martinez.

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For someone who wears progressive lenses (think bifocals), sunglasses are never an afterthought. And, as a hunter and angler, good vision both near and far is a necessity. Add in WileyX safety ratings and I can’t imagine a better product for the modern sportsman in the field.

WileyX Prescription Captivate lenses raise the bar for comfort, clarity and color enhancement on the water or in the field. Photo by Dan Eichinger

Recently, I put a new pair of prescription Captivate lenses to the test while fishing a deep canyon on Colorado’s South Platte River. Chasing those wiley rainbows, browns and cutthroats was made easier with the clarity and enhanced color of the new shades. I clearly could see fish in their feeding zones and the structure I needed to navigate perfect drifts both on the surface with Caddis and with nymphs below around the rocky stream beds.

 

The changing light of a deep canyon is no match for these sunglasses, and they kept me on the water later into the evening than seemed possible. This kind of polarizing clarity deep into the golden hours has tremendous value for me.

WileyX Captivate lenses on the Twisted frame. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Wearing a pair of WileyX sunglasses is comfort and confidence on the water. My days of squinting from side glare and marginal polarization are long over. This is my second pair of prescription WileyXs – the first pair still working as fine as ever – and I’m grateful every time I tie on a size 22 midge on the trout steams or a Rat-L-Trap in the Louisiana marsh.

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With countless places to roam and enjoy the great outdoors, Americans are taking advantage of these opportunities, and as they go, spending significant dollars, too. New economic reports by Southwick Associates reveal that more than 53 million Americans consider themselves sportsmen, spending over $93.5 billion in 2016 on gear, licenses, travel, clothing, gas and more. 

South Park, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

A series of reports released yesterday by the American Sportfishing Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation show that expenditures made in 2016 for hunting, target shooting and sportfishing gear and services supported 1.6 million jobs and provided $72 billion in salaries and wages. These monies also generated nearly $20 billion in local, state and federal taxes. Much of this tax revenue benefits vital conservation and educational programs that improve our outdoor areas for all who enjoy them and make hunting and shooting safer activities.

“If hunting, fishing and target shooting were a corporation, it would rank #25 on the Fortune 500, ahead of Microsoft,” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates. “While time spent outside may come across as something to do after the real work day is done, in reality hunting, fishing and target shooting is a critical industry, generating jobs and income for thousands of communities across the country.”

Key highlights of the reports include:



  • Each year, 35.8 million people 16 years and older take to America’s waters to fish.
  • More than 28 million people over 16 years old took to our nation’s forests and gun ranges to hunt and target shoot in 2016.
  • The number of people who participate in sportfishing, hunting and target shooting represents 16.5 percent of the total U.S. population.
  • When factoring in multiplier effects, spending by sportsmen created economic activity in excess of $220 billion.
  • Hunting, fishing and shooting adds $119 billion of overall value to our nation’s gross domestic product and generates $17.6 billion in federal taxes and $12.2 billion in state and local taxes.

Four separate reports are available: sportfishing from the American Sportfishing Association, hunting and target shooting from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (please register as a guest when asked), plus a report for all activities combined from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

Southwick Associates is a market research and economics firm specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing, and outdoor recreation markets. Celebrating 28 years in business, Southwick Associates has a strong reputation for delivering comprehensive insights and statistics to strategic decision making across the entire outdoor industry. Aside from custom market and economic information, Southwick Associates provides custom and syndicated research including customer-driven new product development, outdoor media consumption insights, and equipment purchase tracking studies. Visit www.southwickassociates.com for more information.

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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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Next week the shooting, hunting and outdoors industry again will engage in one of the largest trade shows I’ve ever experienced. The SHOT Show is the once-a-year gathering place for manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, publishers and wildlife conservation organizations. It’s where a passion for firearms, ammunition and outdoors equipment, plus the industry’s unified support for the Second Amendment, are on display.

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Author Lew Carpenter at SHOT Show 2012 Media Day with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 in .300.

This is the 35th annual SHOT Show. The first SHOT Show was in 1979 in St. Louis, Missouri, and more than 60,000 professionals in the shooting, hunting and outdoors industry attended SHOT Show in 2012. In addition more than 2,000 members of the outdoor and mainstream media, including international media, cover the show.

It’s an incredible event, and one where today’s important issues will be discussed with, no doubt, a wide spectrum of opinions. Top-tier issues that affect this industry will certainly include universal background checks for gun buyers, modern sporting rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

In 2012, modern sporting rifles (like the one seen in the picture above) accelerated in popularity. This year’s show will be no different, with an abundance of peripheral accessories to compliment these popular rifles. As hunters and shooting enthusiasts we all have a responsibility to engage in honest, open discussion about the safety of our communities and family members. SHOT Show is an important gathering place where people of integrity will have these discussions.

Other issues of concern to sportsmen will also be on tap. Primarily, conservation.

Personally, I have been engaged for the past four years in the Vanishing Paradise campaign – a movement to restore the Louisiana wetlands. And, as many of you understand, the Mississippi River Delta supports incredible fishing and is the winter home for 70-percent of the waterfowl in the Central and Mississippi flyways.

Vanishing Paradise team members Andy McDaniels and Land Tawney wait for waterfowl in the Louisiana wetlands.

Vanishing Paradise team members Andy McDaniels and Land Tawney wait for waterfowl in the Louisiana wetlands.

Due to efforts by Vanishing Paradise and other conservation organizations, The RESTORE Act last July passed through Congress with strong support from the sportsman’s community, and we can expect that most of the money (80-percent) from any Clean Water Act fines will be sent back to the states affected by the spill.

Unfortunately, the oil spill isn’t over—and America’s hunters and anglers know it.

Every week it seems that scientists discover a previously unknown consequence of the spill. For example, scientists recently announced  that species like mahi mahi—if even briefly exposed to small amounts of oil while still in their eggs—grow up unable to swim as fast as unexposed fish.

It is not surprising that in one recent poll, 81% of hunters and anglers said they thought BP should pay the maximum penalty for their role in the spill.

Last month, the Department of Justice hammered out a plea agreement where BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion to settle the criminal claims against it. Importantly, the company also acknowledged negligence in the deaths of 11 rig workers.

But this criminal settlement doesn’t mean it is all over—far from it.

The Justice Department is still pursuing civil claims against BP under our nation’s environmental laws. If found guilty of gross negligence at trial—and Justice seems to think it has a strong case—BP would face fines in the range of 20 billion under the Clean Water Act alone.

The company also faces billions of dollars in assessments under the Oil Pollution Act. This law requires the company to pay the costs of restoring the Gulf back to the condition it was in at the time of the disaster. To give you a sense of the potential scale, if BP paid the same amount per gallon as Exxon did in the Valdez case, we’d be looking at roughly $30 billion dollars for restoration.

These may seem like large numbers, but it will take an investment on this scale to make the Gulf whole again. It is the Department of Justice’s job to see that BP is held fully accountable. And it is our job, as hunters and anglers, to keep the heat on the Justice Department to make sure it happens.

Please speak up and demand that BP own up to its carelessness in the Gulf and that the Justice Department hold the company fully accountable. America’s hunting and fishing legacy depends on it.

Out West

SHOT Show is also an important place to discuss areas out West where I, like many of you, hunt mule deer, elk, pronghorn and other great species. If you have an interest in supporting and saving our great western hunting legacy, OPL_Sigplease see the Our Public Lands website. Ourpubliclands.org is a place for hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts to get information about the public lands where they enjoy their favorite activities. The public lands issues on the website focus on:

FRIENDS OF COLORADOOUTDOORS.NET

Finally, SHOT Show is a place to reconnect with old friends. And although there are too many to list here, I’m going to take a moment to highlight two great partners who have helped with the Vanishing Paradise campaign and whose senior leadership have been friends of mine for decades.

RealTree Camo has developed the industry’s most realistic pattern ever. Last week the company unveiled its new camo pattern, Realtree Xtra, also available in Realtree Xtra Green.Image

The breakthrough in camo pattern realism comes from a combination of design and printing technology that delivers three distinct fields within one camo pattern: a foreground, mid-ground, and background.

“New Realtree Xtra and Xtra Green truly live up to their names, giving hunters extra effectiveness in the field,” said Realtree Designer and President Bill Jordan. “All throughout the development process, we focused on creating incredible depth, visual confusion and 3D effects in the pattern mid-grounds and backgrounds while still retaining total sharpness and detail in the foreground elements. The result is as close to nature as we’ve ever gotten.”The Realtree Xtra and Realtree Xtra Green camo designs feature 12 warm, natural colors-one with more green. The new designs provide all-season utility for hunters and outdoorspeople. Its subtle shadows, highlights, and textures blend with more terrain and lighting conditions than any other camo pattern available and make Realtree Xtra the most versatile camo on the market.

And our friends at Plano Molding have completely remodeled the Plano website. The new and improved version showcases all Plano products and is much easier to navigate. It also features videos and articles by members of photoPlano’s pro staff and highlights products that they personally endorse. Head on over to www.planomolding.com and have a look around.

Hope to see you all at SHOT Show 2013 and safe travels to the City of Sin!

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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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