Brett Roper

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Local outdoors columnist

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With Christmas just around the corner, it is important to remember that kids are not the only ones that have wishlists for the holiday season. As the new year will usher in a new president, a large number of organizations are listing actions they would like to see the new administration prioritize.

An important group representing hunters and anglers is the American Wildlife Conservation Partners. This partnership includes the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (which represents the state’s fish and game agencies), Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Wildlife Society. This group’s recommendations are intended to enhance federal stewardship of fish and wildlife.

Their first request is to increase the amount of funding available for the management and maintenance of natural resources. While increased spending is a common desire, this group reminds the administration that the current spending related to natural resources is half what it was in the 1970s. Some increase in spending was already addressed by the Great American Outdoors Act passed last spring but there are still many others that need to be considered.

A theme throughout this document is enhancing hunter and angler access to public lands. They suggest this goal can be met by purchasing or proving existing easements and trading for lands that already have access. Luckily, this is not a huge problem in Cache Valley, as the state, federal, county, and private landholders have, and continue to address, contentious public access issues.

Other areas across the west have not been as successful, as private entities buy large tracts of lands and close access roads to public land. One simple suggestion made by this group is for the Forest Service to digitize the 32,000 easements across private lands that they already possess but are not in a usable format. Not having these easements readily available can make it difficult to know if you can legally use a road that crosses private lands.

Another area they suggest needs attention is better cooperation between federal and state governments in determining how to best protect big game migration areas. In many parts of the West, the biggest threats to deer, elk, and antelope are roads and energy development.

A good example of the negative effect these activities can have can be found in western Wyoming. Between 2010 and 2020, this region saw the number of buck antelope tags decline by 20% and the number of doe tags be reduced by 90%.

Planning and development of roads and energy projects (including wind and solar power) in a manner that limits its effects on big game herds is imperative.

This group also sees a need to increase active management of public forests in a manner that reduces large fires. If done correctly, these activities could improve habitat of some fish and wildlife species, increase carbon sequestration, and reduce the amount of smoke in the region during late summer. Planning of these projects can be achieved by the collaborative efforts among federal and state governments combined with other user groups.

While this is a great suggestion, for coordination to work under this administration, hunters and anglers will likely need to work with groups focused more on preservation rather than conservation. Failure to address parts of everyone’s concerns will result in projects ending up in court rather than being implemented on the ground.

Finally, this group recognizes the need to address two wildlife diseases; chronic wasting disease and wild sheep pneumonia. Developing a test that can detect chronic wasting disease in live animals would go a long way in addressing this issue in captive herds. Reducing the prevalence of this disease in penned animals combined with focused harvest of infected wild herds would limit the spread of chronic wasting disease.

When it comes to wild sheep pneumonia, the solution is finding ways to keep the paths of wild and domestic sheep from crossing. This will require working with ranchers to find ways to move domestic sheep outside areas used by wild sheep.

The list of recommendations provided by the American Wildlife Conservation Partners will help protect and maintain habitat for fish and game as well as other species not pursued by hunters and anglers. Reviewing documents such as this one reminds me that there will always be threats to the wild places I like to spend my time. Buying hunting and fishing licenses is one way to fund the protection of these places, but another is working with any of a large number of groups whose objectives is also protecting these lands.

Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year.

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