After this spring’s census efforts indicated breeding sage-grouse were at unprecedented low numbers, the state of Montana’s Wildlife Commission contemplated a recommendation from the wildlife agency to close the 2014 sage-grouse hunting season state-wide. This action should concern all sportsmen whether they hunt sage-grouse or not. It also begs the question: Is hunting part of the problem of declining grouse numbers – or part of the solution?The fact is that no scientific evidence indicates hunting is a major cause of declines in populations of sage-grouse or a major threat relative to other factors. Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that hunting mortality is not a major threat to the overall persistence of populations. That said, sage-grouse are a different beast. They are relatively long-lived and have lower reproduction compared to many other game birds. As such, they must be managed more conservatively than, say, pheasants, or quail or ruffed grouse.
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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.
Here on Open Country's blog page, contributors take a close look at access issues across the country. Some are public-policy discussions, where we investigate the nuances of public access. In other blogs, we shine a light on attempts to turn public recreation opportunities into private hunting and fishing domains. In still other blogs, we interview decision makers about access issues. Together, we fight for the ability of America's hunters and anglers to have a place to swing a gun or wet a line.
We promise the discussion is always lively, interesting, and fresh, so visit this page frequently to tune into the latest access issue.
The Open Country program culminates in grants and awards with top projects and participants being honored.
Our old friends at the Humane Society of the United States are at it again.
This time the anti-hunting organization is looking to effectively shut down hunting on public land by eliminating the use of lead-based ammunition.
This is a tactic that has been tried before and beaten back. The Center For Biological Diversity, another anti-hunting group, had its petition to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting a ban on lead-based ammunition twice rejected.
Some states have also dealt with – and rejected – the notion of banning lead ammo. But one state has adopted a ban: California.
But HSUS being HSUS, they figured they might as well give it another whack and have even developed a plan of attack for getting it done (See the HSUS Lead Free Campaign).
As a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, the greater sage-grouse has been ruffling feathers for years. Landowners are growing nervous as the Sept. 2015 listing deadline creeps closer, and the conflict that often arises between private and federal interests over controversial species remains a possibility.
But a number of private landowners in eastern Oregon have been working toward a cooperative agreement with the federal government to head off potential conflicts. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances alongside the Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District. This CCAA will operate within the borders of Oregon’s largest geographic county to cover more than one million acres of private rangelands.
CCAs and CCAAs are nothing new, although Oregon is the third state to implement them for sage-grouse habitat. Under a CCAA, landowners voluntarily agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to a species. In return the federal government guarantees that landowners will not be subject to additional regulations should that species become listed under the ESA.
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.