Dan Ashe is one of those guys you ought to know but probably don't.What makes the guy so special? Well, for starters he heads up the agency that controls about 307 million acres of publicly-owned lands, a good chunk of which is open to hunting and fishing. Yeah, bet that got your attention.
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About Open Country
Hunters and anglers across the nation consistently list one challenge as their primary obstacle to spending more time in the field: Access.
Outdoor Life’s Open Country program aims to tackle that issue head on and with boots on the ground. The program highlights volunteer-driven efforts to improve access along with habitat improvements to make existing public lands even better places to hunt and fish. The program's goal is to substantially increase sportsman's access across the country by promoting events that make a difference.
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April 19: Spruce Planting at Crane Pond State Game Area
May 3: Jack Pine Planting in the Grayling Forest Management Unit
May 29: Red Oak Planting in Shingleton Forest Management Unit
June 1: Red Oak Planting in Gwinn Forest Management Unit
Spoilage. Remember that word from high school economics class? Spoilage refers to the goods or services we have but couldn’t or didn’t consume before they expired: the airplane that leaves the ground with empty seats or the hotel that lets a night pass with vacant rooms. It’s waste, like brown bananas in the produce aisle.
The access problem in the outdoors is caused by spoilage, not a lack of acres. I propose we call the problem “Latent Access,” and that we get busy fixing it.
“Access to quality hunting and fishing ground is the most significant challenge facing the future of hunting,” says Doug Saunders, VP of Marketing for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Organizations like ours and government agencies can only do so much. The largest impact needs to come from private individuals sharing their access.”
As expected, the Senate endorsed the $1 trillion Farm Bill in a 68-32 vote on Feb. 4 less than a week after it was approved by the House of Representatives in 251-166 tally. President Barak Obama is to sign the 1,100-plus page omnibus package at Michigan State University today.
The bill -- formally adopted as the Agriculture Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642 and S. S.954) -- had been deliberated and debated for more than two years since the 673-page, $288 million Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 expired in 2012. The 2008 bill had 15 titles, or "chapters," while the 2014 version has 12 titles, including Commodities (Title I), Conservation (Title II), Forestry (Title VII) and Miscellaneous (Title XII).
The biggest news in conservation this week is the presumed passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, a monstrous, acronym-filled jumble of commodity programs, Food Stamps, consumer protections, and wildlife-habitat provisions that adds up to about $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
A bi-partisan conference committee approved the details of the bill late Monday night and forwarded the legislation to the House, which is expected to pass the bill within weeks before passing it over to the Senate (where its reception is less certain). This is a big deal, since the 2008 Farm Bill has been crippling along with emergency extensions since it expired in 2012. And without a real bill, federal programs are frozen, which means no new wetlands are being conserved, no new CRP contracts are being let, and no new prairie potholes are being protected.
Yamaha Motor Corp. has awarded the National Wild Turkey Federation a $20,000 grant to improve access to an 18,500-acre area within Coronado National Forest in Arizona as part of the company's Guaranteeing Responsible Access to our Nation's Trails (GRANT) program.
Launched in January, 2008, Yamaha USA's GRANT program has awarded more than $2 million in grants and equipment in 37 states to enhance access and trails on public lands not only for off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, but for hikers, hunters, anglers, horseback riders and others.
Pressure from prairie pothole states spearheaded by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has forced the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to reopen 26,000 waterfowl production areas, encompassing nearly 3 million acres across 10 states, to public access in time for pheasant hunting seasons.
“It has been determined that allowing public access to Waterfowl Production Areas will not incur further government expenditure or obligation and is allowable under a government shutdown," the FWS stated in an Oct. 11 press release.
While WPAs are reopened "effective immediately," the FWS emphasized that the nation's 561 "national wildlife refuges would remain closed." The distinction is expected to engender confusion because nearly all WPAs are located within the 367 national wildlife refuges that permit hunting.
A consortium of conservation groups claimed during an Oct. 7 conference call that the federal government shutdown is taking an inordinate toll on a routinely abused constituency: sportsmen who pump more than $1.5 billion every year into the economy just in fishing and hunting license fees alone.
"I think Congress's failure to act is really a slap in the face to all of us in this country, but particularly to hunters and anglers," said Dr. Steve Williams, the president of the Wildlife Management Institute and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Jeff Smith (pictured above) has never considered hunting anywhere else on opening day of goose and duck season but in a blind somewhere within the 190,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Complex.
It's where he and his family has enjoyed the first day of waterfowl season for years – until, that is, this year when Smith joined the legion of "refuge refugees" suddenly forced to find someplace other than a national wildlife refuge to hunt.
"We were going up this whole weekend [Oct. 5-6] to Lower Klamath and Tule Lake [NWRs within Klamath Basin National Wildlife Complex], but with the government shutdown, that's out now," said Smith, of Yuba City, Calif. "Like a lot of people, we're scrambling, making a lot of phone calls."
With the federal government locked in self-afflicted paralysis as of midnight, all 561 national wildlife refuges and 368 national parks are now closed to the public. However, nearly all of the country’s 155 national forests and 2,400 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas, as well as vast sprawls of lands managed by the BLM and other federal agencies, remain accessible and available for hunting and fishing.
The thumb-nail rule: Where federal lands remain open to public access, it remains lawful to hunt and fish in accordance with locally applicable state law.
The catch is, with more than 80 percent of Forest Service employees and 95 percent of the BLM’s workforce set to be furloughed by Oct. 5, only emergency response and minimal law enforcement services will be available. The skeletal staffing means all pending federal permit applications, where required, will be frozen, and access to some areas in national forests, wilderness areas, USACE-managed recreation areas and BLM lands will be restricted by possible road closures.
Freshman Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) is about to introduce Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures (HUNT) Act. Again. He brought this thoughtful access legislation to the last Congress when he was a member of the House of Representatives. Heinrich is now a Senator, and one of the most passionate hunters and public-land users in Washington.
In a nutshell, the HUNT Act requires federal land managers to inventory property in their domain and work to create free, public access to land that’s currently surrounded by inaccessible private land.
It’s a helluva good bill for hunters and anglers as well as any person who wants to be able to access our public lands. There’s no hidden agenda or political gamesmanship here. It’s a good, clean bill, something we rarely see in Congress these days. The bill has garnered the support of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, and a few other well-respected organizations. I’m hopeful that list will grow exponentially.