Wyoming and Alaska Bring Hunting to the Forefront of the Conservation Discussion

Hunting and conservation have a long history together. In today’s world, where natural predators aren’t as common as they used to be, hunting is sometimes necessary for population control of animals such as deer or beaver. These animals can quickly alter an ecosystem if their populations aren’t kept in check by hunting. On the flipside of the coin, it is hunting that cause populations of animals such as wolves, grizzly bears, and bison to die off in the first place. Although hunting is strictly regulated now, that wasn’t always the case and animals have even been hunted to extinction. Basically, the relationship and history between hunting and conservation is a complicated one. One that is still being worked on today. This month, that has become even more evident with new hunting regulations being approved in Wyoming and proposed in Alaska.

 

Last year, the Grizzly Bear was delisted as an endangered species. This delisting in and of itself was controversial because people feared it might open these bears up to hunting. This past week, those fears were realized when the Wyoming Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to allow the first grizzly bear hunt in 43 years to take place this fall. During this hunt 22 bears would be allowed to be harvested. Much of the support for this hunt comes from outfitters and ranchers, many of whom have to live with the bear day-to-day and deal with livestock depredation. In turn, the hunt has outraged many who partially credit the presence of the bears to the many tourist dollars that Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks bring in each year. It is undeniable that bear viewing is a huge industry in Wyoming. Without the bears they claim, local economies could suffer. It is important to note that hunting grizzlies within the national park borders is still off limits, but if the bears –including famous ones such as 399, 610, Raspberry, and Blondie to name a few- leave the park boundaries, they would be vulnerable to hunters. This is a story to watch, as it is likely that one of the many lawsuits filed against this hunt could postpone or cancel it.

 

Similarly, up north in Alaska, the National Park Service caused controversy this month when they proposed the state of Alaska should decide how to manage hunting on federal lands in their state. Much of Alaska’s lands are federally owned and have different regulations than other state-owned lands. Officials say “The purpose of this proposed rule is to align sport hunting regulations in national preserves in Alaska with State of Alaska regulations and to enhance consistency with harvest regulations on surrounding non-federal lands and waters. The proposed rule would apply the State of Alaska’s hunting regulations to national preserve lands, with limited exceptions.” This is causing controversy because some of hunting practices that the federal government forbids, are acceptable in some –but not all- parts of Alaska. These include practices like killing bear cubs alongside their mothers, shooting caribou while they swim, hunting wolves, including pups, while in their dens and targeting other animals from airplanes and snowmobiles. In addition, animals could also be baited with sweets and killed or poisoned. The NPS has opened this proposal up for a public comment period which will close on July 23rd, if you have an opinion about this one way or the other now is the time to speak up.

 

These two actions this month have once again brought hunting to the forefront of the Public Lands and Conservation discussion. It’s a continuing discussion, one that is not likely to end soon. As with all this news, it is important for us who work in public lands to understand both sides so that we are able to partake in the conversation.

Parks Raise Entrance Fees to Address Maintenance Backlog

Several months ago I talked about the proposed peak season entrance fee increase and shared my support for it. The entrance fee increase was proposed to address the National Park Service’s 11.6 Billion Dollar Maintenance Backlog. This month the NPS announced that they indeed would be raising entrance fees, but not as steeply as originally stated.

Out of the 417 lands that the National Park Service manages, only 117 of them charge fees. Instead of raising the entrance fee to $70 at only 17 parks for part of the year, all 117 parks that charge fees will be increasing their prices by $5. This includes the motor vehicle pass, park annual pass, individual pass, and motorcycle pass. All of these increases will be effective immediately on June 1. Commercial tour fees will also be increasing at some point this year, but the exact change and the date have not yet been announced. The only price that would not change would be for that of the Interagency Annual Pass. These passes will still be $80 and still at all Federal Fee Areas (not just those managed by the NPS) for one year. All of the fees collected at the parks stay within the National Park Service, with 80% staying inside the park they were collected and 20% going towards those parks that don’t charge fees.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke explained the increase by saying, “An investment in our parks is an investment in America. Every dollar spent to rebuild our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality. I want to thank the American people who made their voices heard through the public comment process on the original fee proposal. Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to larger increases proposed for 17 highly-visited national parks. The $11.6 billion maintenance backlog isn’t going to be solved overnight and will require a multi-tiered approach as we work to provide badly needed revenue to repair infrastructure. This is just one of the ways we are carrying out our commitment to ensure that national parks remain world class destinations that provide an excellent value for families from all income levels.”

While I still support the fee increase, what sets this one apart from the originally proposed plan is that it does nothing to address the unsustainable visitation issues that parks across the US are facing. If you don’t know what I am referring to, I have several blogs in which I discuss these issues. The original plan only had fee increases for the 17 highest visited parks and only for peak season, in an effort to steer people towards other parks and even out the visitation amongst the parks. However, this more modest increase is much more palatable to the American people and results in higher revenues. To be specific The NPS estimates that once fully implemented, the new fee structure will increase annual entrance fee revenue by about $60 million. We will just have find other solutions for our visitation issues.

Public Lands Advocacy Pays Off in Spending Bill

After months of debate, and not one, but two government shutdowns, a spending bill for the federal government was finally passed on March 22nd. Much to the pleasant surprise of public lands advocates, Donald Trump’s proposed cuts were nowhere to be seen and instead the budget is actually up by over $3 billion. In America’s system of checks and balances, it is ultimately congress that has the power over the budget, and it looks like public lands advocacy is paying off. Let’s take a look at where that money went.

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The Cost of a Government Shutdown to our Public Lands

On Friday January 18, Congress failed to come to an agreement on a budget and a Government Shutdown occurred. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened and it will not be the last. However, what was different about this shutdown was that the national parks remained open. Today, we are going to examine the pros and cons of that decision and about how this shutdown (and future shutdowns) has the ability to affect our public lands.

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The OPM Audit and What it Means for Seasonal Employees

About two years ago the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducted an audit of the National Park Service’s hiring practices. Recently, they announced their findings. What they found was that the NPS was abusing their hiring authority. This was not so shocking for those us who work the NPS. With the shrinking budget, corners have had to be cut to be able to continue to operate at the same level we have been for years. However, the changes put in place to correct these issues are going to make a huge impact, especially for seasonal employees, Here is what you need to know.

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Proposed National Park Fee Increase, a Good Thing?

Over the years, I have written a lot on this blog about national park visitation, the threats facing our parks today, and the diminishing budget for our parks. What I am going to talk about today deals with all of these things, but from what I have seen so far, it seems to be a sensitive topic. The opinion I hold on this topic is not necessarily a popular one, but after working in parks and researching them for many many years it is an opinion I think is informed, and one that I am sticking to.

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Forestry Job Spotlight: Wildland Firefighter

This month we are jumping right back into our spotlight series! As previously covered in an earlier blog, searching the USAjobs website can get confusing. There are hundreds of jobs out there and their job titles might not sound anything like what the position actually entails.  Even though you now know how to search for jobs according to their series and grade, you might be thrown off by the jobs that your search comes up with. I am going to be spotlighting specific starter positions within our public lands that you might not necessarily think to apply to. However, these are jobs that you should be applying to, as they offer an excellent foot into the door in the forestry field. This month’s spotlight is on probably the most common forestry position out there –The Wildland Firefighter. What is unique about this position is that you can do it full time, but depending on demand, many people doing other jobs in the forestry field can get voluntarily “drafted” to go on rolls during fire season. So pay attention, because even if you think this doesn’t apply to you, in the future there is a god possibility you will at least be spending some time on a fire. Special thanks to David Hon from Wyoming State Helitack for helping us out with this month’s spotlight!

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FAQ’s

Four days ago, I moved to Yellowstone, and with that move came my first real access to internet (not just on my phone and not limited to 10 minutes) that I have had in about a year. After filing through personal stuff I needed to catch up on, I realized I had literally hundreds of unread messages on my Facebook and Instagram from people who read this blog. I had not realized just how many people actually read this, and was surprised by the sheer volume. I am going to try to get back to everyone, but just know it will likely take me awhile. However, what I will do is use this blog to address the frequently asked questions that kept popping up in these messages to me.

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