Hunting Conservation photo

by Todd Tanner

I was at the High Lonesome Ranch in western Colorado for the annual Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership media summit this past October, and I had an opportunity to listen to a number of outstanding guest speakers. Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever focused on the Farm Bill. Tom Moorman of Ducks Unlimited offered a detailed synopsis of the Gulf Oil Spill. Matt Wagner of Freedom to Roam talked about wildlife habitat and connective corridors. Jim Martin of the Berkley Conservation Institute filled us in on saltwater issues.

One person in particular grabbed my attention, though: TRCPʼs Bill Geer. Bill, whose resume includes stints as the director of Utahʼs Division of Wildlife Resources, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan Coordinator for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Vice President for Conservation Programs for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, recently wrapped up one of the most innovative projects I’ve ever run across. He drove all over Montana, talking to sportsmen’s clubs and putting together a detailed map of the most important hunting and angling locations in the state.

Think about that for a second. Can you imagine how much time it took Bill to meet with every single sportsmenʼs group in a state as big as Montana, and then transfer all of that detailed local knowledge and personal experience onto one huge map? Not, mind you, so he could horn in on the best places to hunt and fish, or so he could share that valuable information with his buddies. But so every time a major new project popped up–say, a request to lease an area for natural gas exploration, or to site a new high voltage power line, or to start the ball rolling on a new shopping center or housing development–the state of Montana would know whether or not the proposal was likely to have a disproportionate impact on our hunting and fishing. In essence, Bill gave the policy makers at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks the chance to cross-reference their hard biological data with a treasure trove of personal information from long-time hunters and anglers. Billʼs ability to get local sportsmen to sit down and map out their favorite spots was nothing short of amazing, and I canʼt begin to tell you how important that kind of empirical information is–especially here in the West where so many of the places we hunt and fish are managed by state or federal agencies. Billʼs mapping project illustrates the kind of creative thinking weʼll need to protect our sporting heritage for future generations.

Now that heʼs finished up his mapping initiative, Bill has moved on to an even more difficult task. Heʼs back on the road, meeting with all those same Montana sportsmenʼs groups and talking about climate change.

As many of you know, climate change has become one of the most politically charged issues facing our country. While I personally believe that the science speaks for itself, and that anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is the single largest threat to our hunting and fishing, I’m well aware that a number of sportsmen disagree with me on this issue. And that’s fine. Let’s steer clear of the politics. Itʼs a lot easier to see things clearly when we concentrate on the facts and take the “left vs. right” and the “liberal vs. conservative” out of the equation.

I sat in on one of Billʼs presentations in western Montana a few months ago and after it was over I listened to a bunch of longtime hunters and anglers describe all the changes theyʼve experienced. Runoff (snowmelt) was at the top of their list. Runoff in Montana starts far earlier now than it did 30 or 40 years ago, and it also ends far earlier. Consequently, the rivers and creeks are lower and warmer during the summer, with fewer fish. At the same time, Montanaʼs heavy winter snows come later–when they come at all–and the elk and mule deer have an easier time staying high in the mountains, and safe from sportsmen, until the hunting season is over. Ponds that folks have fished all their lives, the same ponds where they hunt ducks and geese, are drying up and disappearing. Forest fires are increasing, as are the diseases and insects that kill trees. And all these changes are a result of a warming climate.

Here’s the core point I’d like to make: When we follow Bill’s lead and set aside the politics and the rhetoric, it’s obvious that sportsmen and scientists are on the same page. It’s almost impossible to be a hunter or an angler here in the Rockies and not see the empirical evidence that Bill, who is a respected biologist, documents in his presentation.

So now it’s up to us. Will we work together to protect the places we fish and hunt, or will we continue to ignore what the scientists, and our own eyes, are telling us?