By Jesse Juen
I hope everyone had a wonderful spring and are geared up for summer. I just returned from a week up in the mountains in New Mexico and Arizona. My family obtained a permit and retrieved live aspen poles from our National Forests in New Mexico for some construction projects and then relaxed at a small lodge in Arizona surrounded by National Forest in the White Mountains. Both forests had old fire scars and new fire scars. I know for a fact the fires in Arizona dating back to 2012 were considered catastrophic and massive. I don’t know the scale or the impact to homes, communities, or the environment but what we saw was a rich vibrant forest that responded with an amazing amount of grasses, forbs, aspen, shrubs and young pines. I was bragging to my brother that we would bag several game species to be viewed and enjoyed across these landscapes. We did. Pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk, turkey, black bear, apache trout and numerous other species. It always reminds me about the growing severity of our wildfires in the West and the never-ending need to educate our rural, suburban and urban communities of those threats, how to remove those threats, and the critical nature of managing our public land forests to include fire as part of the normal ecosystem function.
With the summer upon us please enjoy your public lands but also be willing to educate the public you meet and interface with them so they understand the need to keeping their lands in good health.
A long way from the restoring forests of Northern Arizona was a week of meetings that Don Simpson and I attended in Washington, D.C. It was encouraging to participate with a viable group of partners as we work towards meeting the mandates of FLPMA for our National System of Public Lands. Having said this, things are changing fast and not everything we talked about is still the way it was. Following is a report that Don Simpson and I wrote after our trip of April 25-27, 2017:
- Public Lands Working Group – National Wildlife Foundation Conference Room
Attendance: 10 members representing Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), Turkey Federation, National Wildlife Federation, PLF, and Colin Kearns, the Editor-in-Chief with Field and Stream.
- Field and Stream will be publishing a piece next spring called “American Icons.” It will be 20 pages and feature five icons, two of which will be in the West. They want location and species diversity in the stories so will likely pick topic areas such as deer, elk, waterfowl, upland game, and fish. They will have a reporter and videographer on site for several days and will post instagrams, and other social media during the event. Colin is looking for areas to select, so if PLF would like to offer an idea he asked that we submit soon. One idea is that we ask Bob Wick if he could pull together a list of the great spots and provide some photos that we could pass along.
- Advancing Conservation and Education Act (ACE) This draft legislation provides a mechanism to exchange isolated State Sections located in protected areas for Public Lands suitable to the State. The State can pick any lands they want with no acreage cap. This is still a new bill, so the working group will follow it and comment when it is more timely. Most of the concern expressed was over the potential that the State could select quality hunting and fishing areas.
- Land Transfer Legislation. Several states have passed legislation promoting the idea of public lands being transferred to the State. On a national front this issue has quieted but the working group is pulling a paper together rejecting this wholesale transfer notion in whatever form it may take. The paper will highlight that the States and the BLM should work together managing wildlife, recognizing both entities authorities related to habitat and species management. A second paper is being prepared talking about the better way to deal with land transfers is through existing sale (think FLTFA) and exchange authority with an eye on improving access for hunters and anglers and improving habitat.
- TRCP Coalition Policy Council Meeting
Attendance: 45 different coalition members from hunting and sportsmen groups, wildlife groups, NGO’s, Associations and Industry.
- Policy Council: Jesse participated in a half-day policy council meeting and discussions which included advancing habitat enhancements, public access, hunting, fishing, recreation and retaining public lands. Several members were very supportive of the opportunities and needs for retaining public lands in public hands.
- TRCP Conservation Awards Banquet: Attended the banquet with coalition members, NGO’s, recreation companies and political representatives. Took the opportunity to introduce the Public Lands Foundation to Secretary Zinke and how important it is to keep Public Lands in Public Hands.
3. Introduction Meeting with the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Staff
Attendance: Rich Cardinale, Marshall Critchfield, Kate McGregor, Kathy Benedetto and three BLM staff. Introduced the PLF to the new political staff.
Fairly quickly they asked for ideas or thoughts regarding managing wild horses and streamlining oil and gas. Regarding wild horses, we all agreed it was a difficult situation and it sounded like their office was aware of the issues and it was a priority for resolution.
We spent a lot of time talking about current oil and gas processes that work where you have cooperative processes with State and local government, user groups, landowners, other interested parties to craft appropriate proposals with mitigation and monitoring. Having a robust front loaded process saves time as protests and appeals are kept to a minimum and you have buy in with decisions. Landscape conservation initiatives were discussed to proactively enhance the air, water, and wildlife resources that are inherently impacted with development. These initiatives restore past practices and enhance landscapes to allow for future development. We discussed the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative as an example and left them a 2016 annual report. We also discussed Permian Basin oil and gas management issues with the lizard and lesser prairie chickens as another example. Jesse will be providing them follow up information as requested.
- Meetings with BLM Assistant Directors, Deputy Assistant Directors, and other Washington Office Staff
We started the morning off introducing PLF to the BLM Business Management Committee. (See Outstanding Public Lands Professional Award below).
We had several meetings with smaller groups of BLMers in Main Interior and on M Street. The goal was to introduce folks to the PLF and seek out ideas about what the PLF could do that would be helpful to the agency. These meetings were time very well spent and we always ran out of time before we ran out of discussion. In total, we met with 21 employees. Following is a summary of the ideas and suggestions that we discussed:
- Budget. The 2018 budget will roll out May 15. All increases in coal and oil and gas will come at the expense of the other sub-activities. There will be significant impacts to offices in the West that are located in non-energy states. A letter from PLF will be helpful.
- Sage grouse RMPs. There is discussion that the new RMPs with sage grouse management may be required to be redone. It is possible it will just be the sage grouse portion. PLF may wish to watch this issue and if the concerns are with the target area withdrawals and the grazing table we could send a letter suggesting that those are dealt with using amendments or maintenance actions.
- Wild Horse and Burros are getting a lot of attention. The next five months are critical to watch and be engaged. The coalition that staff are working with is viewed as important. Current figures are AML is 27,000, actual numbers on range are 73,000, 7,500 horses are gathered every year, and 46,000 horses are in long term holding costing $49 million annually. This is unsustainable and proposals will be floating quickly. A letter to the House Subcommittee was developed and sent by the PLF President.
- Public Land Transfers. This issue was on everyone’s mind. The ideas discussed centered around outreach regarding the importance of public lands to people. Many ideas were about sponsoring campaigns focused on “what your public lands mean to you,” “tell us a public land story,” or speech contests about various aspects of public lands. In general, folks thought that PLF and other NGOs might be most helpful in this regard.
- NLCS. President Trump waited for our arrival to host the NLCS EO signing ceremony. During the meetings, several individuals brought up the notion that the PLF could be helpful if we used our energy to provide information about the positive economic effects on local communities, the fact that livelihoods are built around these areas, and that most western states are now seeing recreation as their number two industry. Also, a little help with dispensing the idea that these areas are land grabs – they are not newly acquired Federal lands.
- S.O. 3347. This Secretarial Order deals with expanding hunter recruitment and hunter/angler access to public lands. A report goes to the Secretary from the BLM soon so we should watch to see what the Secretary ultimately comes out with. Concurrently, the Pew Charitable Foundation has asked Southwick Associates to prepare a report on hunting and fishing economics on public land. We should see what that looks like and maybe it could be linked, as needed, if the Secretary seeks comments.
- NEPA/Planning/Streamlining. The Secretary has asked the BLM for a report in September on ideas for streamlining these functions. The BLM staff asked if we (PLF) could canvass members and see if there are any historical efforts along these lines that they could pass along to the planning shop.
- Student Congress. Many we visited with were very interested in the student congress. Several asked if BLM staff could attend. We might want to consider how that could be accomplished.
- S.O. 3336. This order asks for ideas to integrate fire with resources. One issue will be the value of timber vs. range resources. Another will be losing the priority of BAER funds from Sage grouse landscapes. The other agencies are not happy with that priority. We should watch this issue.
- Using PLF web page to post economic reports. During several conversations folks advised us that the various reports (OG annual report, NLCS economic report, Annual Sound Investment report, were going to be released or are availTheable. For PLF members to provide good data and use good data in our documents, it might be worth considering either posting for the public or having a listing somewhere for member use.
- Mentoring New Employees was mentioned by several individuals. There is a feeling that new employees arrive with no perspective about what the agency is all about. This was also a topic that Mike Nedd brought up at our quarterly meeting with BLM. Several staff felt the newer folks were not aware of the multiple use concepts. Perhaps we look at expanding the one-on-one mentoring at pathways. Maybe we send members to new employee meetings in the states, prepare lesson plans for those meeting, etc.