Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Dressing up for conservation

Helping organize rallies, like this one at the Idaho State Capitol, to show elected officials how sportsmen and sportswomen feel about legislation is an important part of the politics of conservation. Trout Unlimited photo.

By Brett Prettyman

Waders and work boots are the uniforms people typically think of when they envision Trout Unlimited staffers, members and volunteers setting about to achieve our goal to protect, restore and reconnect cold water fisheries for native species.

But each winter a select number of TU staffers pull out their fancy clothes and head to state capitols – and sometimes the nation’s capital – to do a different kind of conservation work: the political kind.

Here in the Intermountain West the Sportsmen’s Conservation Project was created to work on “the other side” of conservation.

Throughout the year, but specifically during state legislative sessions, the SCP state directors work to keep up with the politics of conservation. TU is there to support legislation good for our efforts to help native fish species survive and to make sure anglers have an opportunity to enjoy catching them. We are also there to stand against legislation that threatens our mission.

As the SCP page on the TU home page reads: “We work to keep the backcountry the way it is by protecting the areas that are critical to producing clean, cool water, healthier fish, trophy bucks and bigger bulls”.

The SCP staffers often call upon state councils and chapter members for help in letting elected officials know what their constituents feel about proposed bills – good or bad.

TU works to find common ground with local sportsmen and women and encourages collaboration among all stakeholders.

Now that the 2018 sessions have finally wrapped up, we thought it would be useful to take a look at some of the good, the bad and the ugly bills that showed up this year.

A trespass bill in Idaho was presented with no input from sporting groups or law enforcement. Efforts to fight the bill helped make some needed changes, but it passed with some troubling content. Trout Unlimited photo.

Among the most concerning bills was a trespass law passed in Idaho. When the bill first showed up Trout Unlimited, and other sportsmen’s groups in Idaho, agreed that it was probably time to review laws associated with trespassing, but that all the impacted parties should be included in the development of the bill.

The bill repealed long-standing requirements on how land was posted as private, only stipulating that posting only need put a “reasonable person” on notice of land ownership.

“This is like increasing the fine and penalties for speeding and then taking down all the speed limit signs so no one knows how fast they’re supposed to be going,” Michael Gibson, Idaho Field Director for TU’s SCP program told the Idaho Post Register in Idaho Falls.

The trespass bill took several forms during the legislative process and Gibson sent out email action alerts constantly encouraging active TU members to engage in the conversation by contacting their representatives. Updates were also included on TU social media platforms.

A trespass bill with extensive amendments, which the public never got a chance to share their thoughts on, passed the Senate Floor and was sent to the governor. Trout Unlimited, Idaho Wildlife Federation and Idaho law enforcement agencies met with the governor’s office to request a veto of the bill. Governor Butch Otter never signed the bill, but it became law withut his signature five days later.

Sportsmen’s groups may have lost the battle of HB658, but efforts against the bill did lead to removal of some of the more troubling parts of the law.

Other Idaho legislative efforts included:

HB369 Idaho Roadless Rule – The bill codified the existing Idaho Roadless Rule Implementation Commission. TU helped craft the Idaho Roadless Rule and has had a representative on the commission since its inception. We worked closely with the governor’s office and the timber industry to move this bill quickly through both chambers. It passed without a single vote against.

HB496 Agency Directors Appointment (Harriman Bill) – A bill proposed to allow the governor to appoint directors at the state offices, including the Department of Parks and Recreation, would have led to the historic Railroad Road Ranch (Harriman Ranch State Park) being handed back over to the family that donated the land to the public. A public uprising helped the bill languish until it died.

SCR132 Wild and Scenic Rivers – The resolution was crafted to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Gibson said the bill had strong bipartisan support and shows “how important wild rivers are to Idahoans”.

The value of tailwater fisheries was a big part of the discussion on one bill during the 2018 legislative session. Trout Unlimited photo.

In Wyoming, SCP director Tasha Sorensen watched as a bill to create Wyoming Public Lands Day was amended and renamed Wyoming’s Multiple Use of Public Lands Day. Some representatives were uncomfortable with the new name and asked interested parties to work for the bill to go back to its original name. In the end the bill was never heard in House Committee as a whole and died.

The “Crimes Against Critical Infrastructure” bill targeted conservation groups that organize public campaigns to affect policy regarding environment and energy policy. TU and other groups encouraged Governor Matt Mead to veto the bill, which he did.

Other notable bills in Wyoming included:

HB78 Omnibus Water Bill-Construction — TU was asked for input regarding funding of the West Battle Creek Dam. A discussion was had about the importance of tailwater fisheries in Wyoming and, after many amendments, the bill passed with funding for land acquisition.

HB20 Game and Fish Agreements – The bill would have inserted politics into Wyoming Game and Fish Department management and given the legislature the opportunity to cancel agreement Wyoming enters with federal government agencies regarding sensitive species. The bill died in a 17-42 vote.

HB94 State Lands – The bill was confusing, and some legislators stated its purpose was to support federal lands transfer to the state. There was some interesting language that may have allowed for small scale exchanges, which could have been in the interest of hunters and angler. Negative momentum behind the bill never got it moving.

The Utah Sportman’s Caucus met on a regular basis during the 2018 legislative session. Trout Unlimited photo.

Utah SCP director Andrew Rasmussen helped bring the Utah’s Sportsman’s Caucus to life just in time for the 2018 session. The caucus, which includes 37 legislators, met weekly to hear how proposed bills could impact sportsmen.

The caucus passed a joint resolution honoring Utah’s sportsmen and sportswomen, and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to wildlife and public access. The resolution received 51 co-sponsors. The caucus will remain active throughout the year with field trips planned to see state wildlife efforts and public land management at work.

Other notable Utah legislative efforts include:

SB25 Water Right for Trout Habitat Repeal Date Extenison – Trout Unlimited secured a one-year extension of a sunset of our exclusive right to hold temporary in-stream flow leases for fish conservation (TU is the only non-governmental entity allowed such a statutory privilege in Utah).

HB329 Aquaculture Amendments – TU helped the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources organize a broad and deep coalition to beat back a bill from the private aquaculture community that threatened the long-term health and sustainability of Utah’s native trout.

This is only a small sample of what SCP field directors were up to in the West during the recent legislative sessions. After some time on the water rejuvenating they will be back to working the politics of conservation.

Brett Prettyman is the Intermountain Communications Director for Trout Unlimited. He works to share the good word on all Trout Unlimited is up to in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. He is based out of Salt Lake City and can be reached at bprettyman@tu.org

By Brett Prettyman.