National Issues

Tell Secretary Zinke not to dismantle Sage-Grouse conservation plans


The Department of the Interior is considering weakening or eliminating habitat protections for Greater Sage-Grouse;

comments due Friday, August 4


By David O’Neill

Chief Conservation Officer

National Audubon Society



Once numbered in the millions, the Greater Sage-Grouse has declined precipitously due to widespread habitat destruction. To help save this iconic bird, many stakeholders’ states, ranchers, conservationists, industry, scientists, and federal agencies’ collaboratively developed a balanced conservation plan to protect 67 million acres of habitat for the sage-grouse and 350 other species. These plans also ensure sustainable economic growth for communities across the West.


Now, the Department of the Interior is considering weakening or eliminating these vital habitat protections by ordering a review of the plans. You can help by weighing in with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Tell him to maintain the Greater Sage-Grouse protections. The deadline to comment is Friday, August 4. From court challenges to backdoor attempts to put harmful language in must-pass Congressional bills, anti-conservation interests have been working to tear apart the conservation plans since they were adopted. Each time, Audubon members have raised their voices and succeeded in defending this historic conservation effort.


The birds need your help today.


The Department’s review raises concerns that habitat protections could be weakened or eliminated by exploring “creative approaches” that are alternatives to protecting habitat, such as captive breeding and setting population targets state by state. Neither approach is supported by applicable science nor experts in the field. The order also emphasizes eliminating burdens on energy development on public lands, not on the conservation of sage-grouse. However, recent studies have shown that very few of the protected areas overlap with high-potential places for oil and gas development. Tell Secretary Zinke that prioritizing energy development over conservation or including scientifically unsupported approaches in conservation plans would spell disaster for these incredible birds. He needs to let the existing plans work.


Put your cursor on either of the colored sections above and it will take you to a site that will help you respond to Secretary Zinke.

Aerial surveys confirm Lesser Prairie-chicken population is holding steady


The latest lesser prairie-chicken survey shows population trends remain stable after six years of aerial survey data collection, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). The survey indicates an estimated breeding population of 33,269 birds this year, up from 25,261 birds counted last year. Though scientists are encouraged by the numbers, they know year-to-year fluctuations are the norm with upland birds like the lesser prairie-chicken.

“The survey results indicate a 32 percent increase in the number of birds over last year, but we don’t read too much into short-term population fluctuations,” explained Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program manager.


by J.N. Stuart

by J.N. Stuart


“The monitoring technique used for this survey is designed to track trends, which more accurately reflect the amount of available habitat and population stability,” Wolfe said. “The bottom line is that the population trend over the last six years indicates a stable population, which is good news for all involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation efforts.”


Lesser prairie-chickens can be found in four ecoregions in five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Wildlife biologists note prairie-chicken numbers fluctuate annually due to changes in habitat conditions, which are mainly influenced by weather patterns. The surveys this year indicated apparent population increases in three of the four ecoregions and rangewide, with a decrease estimated in the fourth ecoregion.


The shortgrass prairie ecoregion of northwest Kansas saw the biggest increase in birds, followed by the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion of the northeast Texas Panhandle, northwest Oklahoma and southcentral Kansas. The sand sagebrush ecoregion of southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas also registered an increase in the number of breeding birds. An apparent population decline was noted in the shinnery oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.


“We’d also like to point out that the aerial surveys this year were taken before a late spring snowstorm blasted through a portion of the bird’s range, just prior to the peak of nest incubation,” said Wolfe. “Like all wildlife, the health of these birds depends on the weather. Rainfall at the right time means healthy habitat for the birds, and heavy wet snow like we saw in late April can have a negative impact on survival and productivity. We’ll know more about the impact of that weather event after aerial surveys are completed next year.”


The Lesser Prairie-chicken Rangewide Plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. The plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. To date, industry partners have committed more than $63 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve more than 145,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to benefit Lesser Prairie-chickens


The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has awarded a grant to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to restore lesser prairie-chicken habitat. The $197,309.25 grant is funded through NFWF’s ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation and Innovation Program.


“We appreciate our partnership with NFWF and ConocoPhillips and look forward to applying these funds as we continue to implement the Lesser Prairie-chicken Rangewide Plan,” said Alexa Sandoval, Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative Council. “Restoration work is key to the long-term survival of the bird and this grant will contribute to the combined efforts to keep the bird off the endangered species list.”


The bird was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but was de-listed in 2016 after a federal judge ruled on a lawsuit and vacated the listing. The judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not thoroughly consider active conservation efforts in making the listing decision, namely the activities associated with WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Rangewide Plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the status of the lesser prairie-chicken across its five-state range to determine whether it should be listed again.


The NFWF grant will fund restoration work on up to 1,000 acres of private land that will connect larger fragmented pieces of prairie-chicken habitat. Good habitat must be contiguous to benefit lesser prairie-chickens.


“The rangewide plan calls for us to focus our efforts as strategically as possible,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA Grassland Coordinator. “By connecting good bird habitat, more acreage will be available for the birds to thrive.”


The rangewide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken by providing a mechanism for voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry, and improving coordination between state and federal conservation agencies. Funding for WAFWA’s conservation efforts comes from voluntary mitigation payments by industry partners that are enrolled in the plan, along with grants from partners like NFWF. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.


For more info on NFWF’s ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation and Innovation Program, visit

Light Goose Conservation Order open now


Waterfowl hunting addicts may be having withdrawals since the duck seasons closed on Jan. 29 and regular goose seasons closed Feb. 12. But they will find temporary relief in the Light Goose Conservation Order, which is open Feb. 13-April 30, 2017. In an effort to reduce the population of snow and Ross’ geese, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) authorized this special hunting season for light geese.


To increase hunter success, the conservation order authorizes hunting methods not allowed during the regular seasons, including the use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns. Extended shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. And there is no daily bag or possession limits.


The conservation order was first established in 1999 when it was determined that the population of light geese had increased more than 300 percent since the mid-1970s. Extraordinary numbers of geese have denuded portions of their fragile tundra breeding habitat in the arctic, which may take decades to recover. And the damage is impacting other bird species that nest there, including semi-palmated sandpipers and red-necked phalaropes.


For more information on this season, visit and click on “Hunting/When to Hunt/Migratory Birds.”

What’s the real risk of Monsanto’s controversial weed killer?


The latest government report on glyphosate contradicts the findings of the World Health Organization’s cancer group.


By Willy Blackmore



Over the past 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has considered the health risks posed by the herbicide glyphosate—best known by the Monsanto brand name Roundup—on five occasions. When it first looked at the issue in 1985, the agency determined that glyphosate was a “possible human carcinogen.” A year later, a third-party panel called into question the study that first assessment was based on, and the EPA declared glyphosate “not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity”—the jury’s still out, essentially—while promising to continue to examine the issue as new research came out. Then, in 1991, the EPA took another look and backed off further from its initial assessment, saying there was “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.” In 2015, that assessment was updated to the safer-sounding “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” On Friday, a new review of research published by the EPA again found that the herbicide, which is now the most widely used in agricultural history, does not cause cancer.


But there’s a bit of a problem with the agency’s three-decade drift toward declaring the herbicide as safe in stronger and stronger terms: Last year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The announcement was major news: The declaration has put glyphosate into regulatory limbo in the European Union, where its safety approval may not be renewed, and has led to calls to ban the chemical outright in the United States. In the wake of the IARC announcement, tests of food products paid for by consumer groups have found trace levels of glyphosate in everything from beer to eggs to oatmeal.


The new EPA report—part of its ongoing risk assessment of glyphosate that is now years behind schedule and may not be completed until next spring—follows another that was published briefly on the agency’s website before being taken down. (The EPA said it was published prematurely, but the pages were marked “final.”) It too determined that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

It has all led to growing consumer concern over glyphosate—and distrust of both Monsanto, its major producer, and the processes by which its safety is determined.


So does glyphosate cause cancer? Consumers tend to see things like carcinogenicity in black-and-white terms: something either gives people cancer or it does not. Just look at the calls for the herbicide to be banned: Armed with the “probably carcinogenic to humans” claim, petitions like one from Care2, which garnered more than 128,000 signatures, argue, “Glyphosate should not be in our consumer products in any amount. It is not safe as previously claimed.”


Reviews of scientific literature like those conducted by the IARC and the EPA are anything but black and white. The process involves sifting through piles of research data, determining what qualifies as a sound result, and making a case—carcinogenic or not carcinogenic—based on the evidence that the bulk of the data, especially the sound data, supports.


Should a weed killer that might cause cancer be banned?

In the IARC report from last year, the authors wrote, “There was limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.” The case-control studies the IARC scientists looked at “reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides.”


But those studies predominantly looked at white men in the United States, Canada, and Sweden. Sure, in recent history in those places, white men have done a lot of farming, and what with farmers encountering glyphosate in far higher amounts than anyone ingests by eating oatmeal or honey, that seems like a reasonable place to start investigating whether exposure to an agricultural chemical might give someone cancer. But it’s not a representative sample of humanity—no women, a single ethnicity, and in a limited geographical area. The IARC authors looked at some studies on lab animals and at research done on increased blood levels of a compound associated with glyphosate, but the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma studies provided the bulk of the evidence.


In compiling the EPA review, a much broader swath of research was reviewed, and the authors also considered the studies included in the IARC report that looked at farmers exposed to glyphosate. The EPA found fault with all the studies, determining that they showed a statistically insignificant increase in risk or did not properly control for other pesticide exposures. In discussing the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma studies, the authors wrote, “There is clearly a strong potential for confounding by co-exposures to other pesticides since many are highly correlated and have been reported to be risk factors for NHL.” This means that these men may have developed cancer because they worked with pesticides, but glyphosate might not have been the culprit.


With regard to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the EPA authors concluded, “Due to study limitations and contradictory results across studies of at least equal quality, a conclusion regarding the association between glyphosate exposure and risk of NHL cannot be determined based on the available data.”


So does glyphosate cause cancer? The IARC said it’s probable and largely based that assertion on a series of studies that found “limited evidence” that it is carcinogenic to humans. That’s the group’s mandate: to determine if a chemical might, even in rare circumstances, cause cancer. The IARC review by no means says that eating foods that contain trace amounts of glyphosate is a cancer risk. While the EPA arrived at a different conclusion with regard to the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma studies, it did determine that a link between glyphosate and that type of cancer couldn’t be determined based on the existing data. Though it noted that many of the studies were conducted before 1996, when Roundup Ready crops were first introduced and glyphosate use began to skyrocket.


While it’s likely that more tests finding trace amounts of glyphosate in food products will grab headlines and that there will be continued calls for new regulations, the focus on risk to consumers may be a case of missing the forest for the trees. As Paul Towers of the Pesticide Action Network told TakePart in May, there may be health concerns, “but I think the bigger problem—and potential solution—lies with the USDA supporting a better agricultural system that doesn’t rely on these chemicals. I think our biggest concern remains the kind of system that agriculture gets stuck in—the pesticide treadmill of overuse, misuse, developing or encouraging invasive pests or invasive weeds that we then need to bring in the next chemical in order to deal with.”


Solving that problem involves asking a question more complicated than whether or not glyphosate causes cancer.

Prevent the loss of a National Wildlife Refuge in the Everglades


Don’t let the state of Florida eliminate the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge


The State of Florida is attempting to take back one of America’s National Wildlife Refuges. The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge provides critical habitat to 250 species of birds, including the largest wading bird colony in the Everglades with more than 7,000 active nests.

But now, in an effort that has long been encouraged by the sugar industry, Florida has begun the process of evicting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This move will eliminate federal wildlife protections on the 144,000 acre Refuge, one of the last remnants of the historic Everglades.

Please send a letter to Florida’s Governor Rick Scott and urge him not to close down the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

The State of Florida is using the management of an invasive plant as a pretext to cut ties with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and take away the Refuge. Under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stewardship, the Refuge has flourished into some of the healthiest Everglades habitat.

Florida’s attempt to take back the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is the latest effort in a nationwide movement to eliminate federal protections from our most treasured public lands. For years, the sugar industry dumped dirty water into the Refuge until the U.S. Department of Justice enforced water quality laws and ordered them to clean up their act to protect the Refuge’s vital wildlife habitat. Eliminating the Refuge will weaken legal protections for habitat for threatened Wood Storks and endangered Everglades Snail Kites.

Evicting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not solve the challenge of controlling and combating invasive species in the refuge–it’s a misguided ploy to get rid of one of our National Wildlife Refuges and would set a dangerous precedent for other protected places around the country.

Email Governor Scott today and tell him not to eliminate the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Utah’s state legislature is at it again


The Wilderness Society


A crisis is brewing in Utah, one that could have national repercussions if we don’t act immediately.


Utah‘s state legislature passed a bill in 2013 directing the federal government to turn over public lands to the state. This bill, the first of its kind, would allow the state to seize public lands we all share, cutting off our access to make room for more drilling and development.


Utah‘s bill is unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable, but they don’t care. So now they are spending millions of dollars in taxpayer money to explore their legal options. Utah’s actions set a dangerous precedent that if unchecked, could lead to other states taking similar actions. We can’t let that happen — our shared natural legacy is at stake.


Earlier this year, The Wilderness Society released a report showing that Idaho has sold 41% of the land it owns for development. That’s 1.7 million acres of state land lost forever. Newspapers wrote about it, state legislators were held accountable, and the public was shocked.


We can do it again in Utah. But we need your help. The total cost to research, write and produce such a report is just $7,350. Can you help us reach this goal to fund our work protecting wild public lands in Utah and across the country?


By taking a stand in Utah, we send a powerful message to all state legislatures and private interest groups around the country that we are watching, we won’t back down, and we will hold them accountable.


Help the Wilderness Society save Utah’s and all of America’s public lands.

National Hunting and Fishing Day celebrates hunters and anglers


National Hunting and Fishing Day (NHFD) is Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, to recognize the amazing contributions hunters and anglers have made to wildlife conservation over the past 100 years. Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation officially dedicating Sept. 24 as National Hunting and Fishing Day in Kansas, crediting Kansas hunters and anglers for their positive impact on wildlife conservation and the state’s economy.


The 2016 Honorary Chair is Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, and the theme of this year’s nationwide celebration is “Hunt. Shoot. Fish. Share the pride.” Since the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act was passed in 1937, hunters have provided more than $7 billion to state wildlife conservation programs through excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment. Currently, hunters pay more than $371 annually into the federal program, and when you add the nearly $800 million they spend on licenses and permits and another $440 million they donate to conservation organizations each year, it’s evident that hunters fund wildlife conservation programs in the U.S.


On the fishing side, U.S. anglers and boaters have paid nearly $8 billion into the Sport Fish Restoration Program since it was established in 1950. That money is distributed to state agencies for fisheries conservation programs, aquatic resource education, boating access, and the Clean Vessel Act program. Annually, anglers pay nearly $400 million into the federal program, $657 million in license fees and more than $400 million in private donations annual for fisheries conservation programs.


In Kansas, hunters and anglers pump more than $600 million into our state’s economy annually, supporting 9,300 jobs and paying $69 million in state and local taxes.


While the money provided to wildlife and fisheries programs by hunters and anglers is impressive, the wildlife success stories are even more amazing. Species, such as white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, wild turkey, and giant Canada geese, that were on the brink of extinction around the turn of the century are now abundant and existing in healthy populations across the country. Today’s state fisheries programs produce a variety of quality angling opportunities that were unthinkable just 50 years ago. And while the focus is usually on game animals and sport fish, the conservation programs implemented benefit far more non-game species.


To learn more about the National Hunting and Fishing Day 2016, go to To learn more about the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program, go to Contact your local Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism office to see if any NHFD events are planned near you.

Transferring control of federal lands would devastate hunting and fishing


The recent movement to do away with the concept of federal lands has nothing to do with freedom. It’s just the opposite—and would change hunting and fishing as we know it


By Hal Herring

Field and Stream


“We have to do this,” Blaine Cooper told me in a rush. “The BLM lit a fire to burn this ranch down because they want the uranium that’s under it! The left blew up buildings, killed people, enslaved people to make this wildlife refuge!”


Cooper was sitting behind the wheel of a white pickup, heater blasting, and talking to me through the open window. It was the middle of last January, maybe 12 degrees above, here at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, with day just breaking over a universe of frost-whitened sagebrush and 6 inches of old snow.


Duane Ehmer, riding by on his cow horse, Hellboy, was dressed for duty in a furry cap with earflaps and an old red, white, and blue leather jacket and well-worn chaps, plus a cap-and-ball Colt pistol. The big American flag he carried barely moved in the ice-fogged stillness. Later in the day, Ehmer would tell me that he believed that the federal government had “taken away the land from good-hearted American people,” and that soon enough, our public lands would be sold off to help pay the U.S. debt to China. He was worried that he would have no place to hunt or ride his horse if and when that happened. He seemed like a good guy, the kind of person who would be handy to have with you on a tough job, or in a backcountry camp.


I went to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to meet these militants who had taken over the refuge headquarters and talk to them about what they were doing, and why they were so opposed to the public lands that are the sole reason I moved to the West 26 years ago and raised a family here. Cooper and some of his companions seemed to be lost in a shadow world of conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and boilerplate antigovernment fury.


But the friendly Ehmer was at least half correct. There is indeed a carefully crafted movement under way to rob Americans of their public lands. It’s a movement led not by armed and ranting men decked out in militia getups, nor the Ammon Bundy types in their cowboy hats, but by soft-handed politicians in business attire, dreaming of riches and a transformation of our country that will bring us into line with the rest of a crowded world where only the elite and the very lucky have access to wildlife, open spaces, rivers and lakes, and the kind of freedom that we have for so long taken for granted.


Randy Newberg, one of America’s most outspoken public-land ­hunter- ­conservationists, points out that transferring control of public lands to the states, or to private hands, is not a political issue—it’s an American issue. “So many people I talk with just don’t seem to know what is at stake,” says Newberg. “The idea of our public lands, in public hands, is one of the greatest contributions that America ever gave to the world—that we the people are invested in our own lands. It’s part of our democracy, and it is exactly what gave birth to the American conservation movement that made us the envy of the world.”


The Great Land Rescue

At Malheur, none of the occupiers I spoke with knew the history of what they claimed to be opposing. Here’s the short version: Homestead acts beginning in 1862 awarded more than 270 million acres of land (about 10 percent of the nation’s land area) to tough, optimistic settlers who staked their claims from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean (the only requirement was being able to prove that you had never taken up arms against the U.S. government). The Railroad Act of 1862 was the first of a series of grants that gave away another 175 million public acres (much of it timberlands that could supply railroad ties and other materials) to encourage railroad companies to build the transportation infrastructure that would complete the settling of the West. In the rough-and-tumble closing of the American frontier in the late 19th century, millions of acres that were too remote, dry, or rugged for settlement or other uses went unclaimed. These lands were subjected to a ruthless free-for-all of mining, logging, and grazing that left much of the landscape unusable, and the wildlife threatened with extinction.


It was a dire situation, and the American solution was unique to the world at the time: President Benjamin Harrison set aside the first “forest reserves” from these unclaimed lands in 1891, to protect the mountain headwaters of major rivers that supplied navigation and irrigation. Between 1901 and 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt expanded these reserves, now known as the national forests, to almost 148 million acres. Later, as unclaimed rangelands were severely overgrazed, the Bureau of Land Management was created to restore and oversee 245 million acres of that unclaimed land, which included millions of heavily degraded acres abandoned by homesteaders who had tried and failed to make them produce enough crops or livestock to survive. We were left with 640 million acres of public land—land that has become the cornerstone of American outdoor recreation and represents the best public hunting and fishing country in the world.


From the beginning, the idea of a vast public estate, and especially Roosevelt’s dramatic expansion of the national forests, was greeted with unmitigated scorn by many powerful Westerners. The ruthless Gilded Age robber baron William A. Clark, who built his fortune on Montana’s timber and copper, was allied with Idaho’s Sen. Weldon B. Heyburn and Colorado’s Rep. Herschel M. Hogg, a mining magnate, to block every attempt at creating public lands or conserving natural resources of any kind. Clark often said, “Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves.”


The Move to Privatize

In the 1950s, as restoration efforts on BLM and U.S. Forest Service public lands began to improve grazing conditions and reestablish cutover forests, the movement to take these lands began to build. In 1955, the renowned Western historian Bernard DeVoto wrote that “the ultimate objective is to liquidate all public ownership of grazing and forest land in the United States…the plan is to get rid of public lands altogether, turning them over to the states, which can be coerced as the federal government cannot be, and eventually into private ownership.”


The Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and ’80s was sparked by changes in federal land-management policies mandated by Congress that, in part, required surveys of possible new wilderness areas and studies of the effects of grazing and timbering on wildlife, fish, and recreation. The Sagebrush Rebellion, whose supporters wanted more state and local control of those lands—if not actual transfer of the lands to the states, or outright privatization—had widespread support across the rural West. Even Ronald Reagan, on the campaign trail in Utah in 1980, claimed, “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel.”


But the ranchers who were leading the movement began to recognize the possible consequences of individual states taking over management of federal lands. The repercussions would have included the most radical expansion of state government in history to deal with the administration of such marginally productive lands, as well as increased taxes to support it, grazing fees that would rise as much as tenfold, and finally, the inevitable sell-off of most of the lands to private interests that would almost certainly not include the Sagebrush Rebels. It would actually mean the end of small-scale ranching in the arid West.


The precedents then were as clear as spring water—and they are just as clear today:

  • Nevada was given 2.7 million acres of federal land when it became a state in 1864. All but 3,000 acres of that has been sold off.
  • Utah has already sold more than 50 percent of the lands granted to it at statehood.
  • Idaho has sold off 41 percent of its state lands since gaining statehood in 1890, which equates to 13,500 acres per year going into private hands.


And the history of land under state ownership is not good. A report by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a national sportsmen’s conservation group, cites these figures:

  • In Colorado, only 20 percent of state trust lands are open to the public for hunting and fishing.
  • To help ease budget woes in Wisconsin, the state is currently in the process of selling off 10,000 acres of state-owned land.
  • In Oregon, as timber revenue from it has declined, the state has been forced to auction off the 92,000-acre Elliot State Forest. Oregon was originally granted 3.4 million acres and has only 776,000 acres left.
  • In Idaho, a European-esque hunt club has leased state land for exclusive hunting rights.


The Modern Land Grabbers

The new leaders of the so-called “divestiture movement” are not ranchers, at least not in the conventional sense. They are inspired by the work of theorists and political appointees like Terry L. Anderson, who wrote “How and Why to Privatize Federal Lands” in 1999. They are men like Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, of the American Lands Council, a group advocating for the transfer of public lands to the states. Ivory, who sponsored legislation that would do just that, told reporters that the transfer of the lands was “like having your hands on the lever of a new Louisiana Purchase.” (Of course, in the Louisiana Purchase, the U.S. actually bought 827 million acres from France, paying $15 million. Ivory makes no mention of buying any public land from the American people who currently own and use it.)


Rep. Ivory is not a rancher. He represents the district of West Jordan, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, but he knows where the money is in American land. His group receives funding from Americans for Prosperity, the main political advocacy arm of Charles and David Koch, of Koch Industries. Ivory’s bill, the 2012 Transfer of Public Lands Act, has been followed by similar bills in the legislatures of 10 Western states. The Utah legislature has passed a resolution to spend $14 million of Utah taxpayers’ money on a lawsuit against the federal government, demanding transfer of all public lands within the state.


“The difference between the land grabbers today and in past years is that they are much more organized than ever before. There is a lot more money behind them than there ever has been,” says Land Tawney, the executive director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.


The public lands that were once viewed as useless have now attained fantastic value, on a planet of 7.3 billion people, in the ­fastest- growing developed nation on earth. Dramatic, huge-scale private land holdings across the nation have become the norm, from the recent purchase of 330,000 acres of ranchland in the Missouri Breaks of Montana by the Texas-based Wilks brothers, to Ted Turner’s 2 million acres, the Koch brothers’ 200,000- acre Montana ranch, or the Mormon Church’s ownership of 650,000 acres in Florida and a 201,000-acre ranch along the Wyoming-Utah border. There is little doubt that there would be a huge demand for U.S. public lands, both from our own wealthy residents, from investors, and from ­resource- ­stressed nations like Saudi Arabia and China.


Basic natural resources are most at risk. “Think about the water we’d lose access to if these lands were privatized—70 percent of the headwaters of our streams and rivers in the West are on public lands,” Tawney says. “That is why the lands were set aside in the first place. We knew that under federal management we’d be able to harvest timber and still protect the water resources. With private ownership, there was no guarantee.”


And “no guarantee” applies to hunting and fishing, too, Tawney says. “The transfer of these lands to state control would change American hunting forever. State lands have an entirely different set of rules for management. And private lands are mostly not accessible for the average hunter. The experiment, unique to our country, where the fish and wildlife and the public lands belong to the people, well, that would be the end of that.”


For Randy Newberg, whose TV shows On Your Own Adventures and Fresh Tracks are based on nonguided public-lands hunting, the transfer or privatization of public lands is what he calls a “cold dead hands” issue. “I will never give up fighting this terrible idea,” says Newberg, who has represented hunters in Congress and state legislatures. “For me, America without public lands is no longer America.”


The way to fight it? Contact your congressional representatives. “Tell them you want no part in these schemes to transfer or get rid of our public lands,” says Land Tawney. “The system works. Your voice still counts as an American. But only if you use it.”

USFWS plan to expand hunting, fishing on wildlife refuges provides important access


Katie McKalip

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers


Enhanced access would benefit public lands sportsmen on 13 refuges in nine states, including new hunting opportunities in Colorado and Michigan


New hunting and angling opportunities on national wildlife refuges provide increased public access for sportsmen during a time when access is shrinking, said Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, commending a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand hunting and fishing on 13 national wildlife refuges in nine states.


USFWS Director Dan Ashe announced the proposal, which encompasses migratory bird, upland game and big game hunting opportunities, as well as sport fishing, and would modify existing regulations on more than 70 other national wildlife refuges and wetland management districts.

BHA President and CEO Land Tawney welcomed the announcement from Director Ashe.


“National wildlife refuges occupy a special place in the hearts of most American hunters and anglers,” said Tawney, who has hunted waterfowl on refuge system units his entire life. “Our refuge system provides accessible, high-quality fish and wildlife habitat, as well as havens for sportsmen to experience solitude and tranquility – experiences central to our identity as public lands recreationists.


“Public lands also play a central role in the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers mission,” continued Tawney. “We’ve stood up for them, consistently and strongly, and will continue to defend the right of citizens to partake of the wealth of opportunities they offer. Our thanks go to the Service and Director Ashe for his unwavering dedication to sustaining – and expanding – these opportunities.”


BHA members in Colorado commended the announcement, whereby elk hunting would be opened for the first time in parts of Baca National Wildlife Refuge and expanded in the Alamosa and Monte Vista national wildlife refuges. All three refuges are located in the Centennial State.


“Enjoying our public lands – including by hunting and fishing – is a way of life in Colorado,” said David Lien, chair of BHA’s Colorado chapter. “Expanding hunting opportunities on the Alamosa and Monte Vista national wildlife refuges, as well as opening the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, currently closed to public use, to bird and big-game hunting, is some all-too-rare good news for sportsmen. We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for its commitment to the responsible management of our nation’s refuges, and we thank Director Ashe for upholding our outdoor traditions.”


The Michigan chapter of BHA highlighted the importance of the announcement to sportsmen in the Wolverine State.


“The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is located within the greater Detroit metropolitan area, a place with limited public lands hunting access,” said Jason Meekhof, chair of BHA’s Michigan chapter. “An expansion of opportunity here will be of great value to an area where quality hunting options are scarce – and will be particularly important to waterfowlers due to the vast amount of birds that travel and live within this corridor. Michigan public lands sportsmen enthusiastically support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision.”


Sportsmen cite insufficient access as the No. 1 reason for forgoing time afield. National wildlife refuges provide valuable opportunities for time afield during an era where sportsmen’s access is steadily decreasing. Regulated hunting is permitted on 336 wildlife refuges, and fishing is permitted on 275 refuges. They play an important role in managing fish and wildlife populations on many refuges.


Public comments on the changes are invited before Aug. 15, 2016. For more information and to submit comments, visit and reference docket no. FWS-HQ-NWRS-2016-0007.