Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How TMPs Threaten Hunting

Very insiteful article...as an elk hunter on public lands, the ability to pack out an elk has dictated the one's I've gone after in the past. Been extremely frustrating knowing I'm physically able, but knowing I wouldn't be able to retrieve a possible trophy. We as sportsman have a lot of work to do. I would appreciate everyone's thoughts on the issue...Rod

Determining what a Travel Management Plan (TMP) does depends on who you ask.

Ask a Forest Service official, and he'll say it's a way to balance the conflicting expectations of millions of visitors to national forests while protecting the land and wildlife under their administration.

Ask a soil scientist and he'll say it's a way to prevent soil erosion and sedimentation of waterways.

Ask a hunter, and he'll say it's one more roadblock to access-a bureaucratic reaction to a minority of irresponsible people that could penalize an overwhelmingly responsible majority.

Fundamentally, a TMP designates roads and trails as being opened, limited, or closed to motorized vehicles-including cars, pickups, ATVs, off-highway vehicles (OHVs), etc. As the plans are developed, a number of alternatives are often considered based on environmental assessments and public input-types of vehicles allowed, closing entire trails or just sections, closing for the entire year or allowing seasonal openings, inclusion or exclusion of "unauthorized trails," etc. The final decisions are documented on a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM).

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which together manage 449 million acres of land, are in the process right now of creating TMPs for every unit of land they manage.

TMPs can work dramatically against hunter access. Right now, BLM is considering closing 139 miles of roads and trails in Arizona's Middle Gila Canyons. And in March, 186 miles of trails in Montana's Badger-two Medicine area were closed to motorized traffic.

Gary Marbut, President of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said, "The effect of the road closures is that the Forest Service is creating larger and larger chunks of essentially unavailable land-de facto wilderness. The chief problem is game retrieval. Many of us are still fit enough to hike into the interior of these larger and larger blocks of public property, but we'd have no hope of packing an elk back out. This turns hunting on public property into a rich man's sport, practically available only to those who can afford to keep horses year-round, or who can afford to hire outfitters for game retrieval.

"Twenty years ago," Marbut continued, "there were enough points of road access to these lands that a person would have a decent chance of getting a 4x4 within three or four miles of a downed elk, making the retrieval possible, even if difficult. Now, with the many road closures, there are lots of places where it would be necessary to pack a downed elk 10, 20 or 30 miles through rugged, mountainous terrain-simply not possible for the usual hunter."

The issue of game retrieval is critical, one that Susan Recce, NRA-ILA's Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources, has fought for in a number of TMPs. She noted, "The agencies are inconsistent from one plan to another. Some plans provide for retrieval, some don't."

In general, according to rules published in the Federal Register [(36CFR212.51 (b)], TMPs do allow for "the limited use of motor vehicles within a specified distance of certain designated routes...solely for the purpose of big game retrieval." Local officials have some discretion in determining that distance and those routes, but they are cautioned, "The Forest Service expects responsible officials to apply 36CFR 212.51 (b) sparingly to avoid undermining the purposes of the travel management rule ..."

Recce even feels that TMPs could be in conflict with an Executive Order issued by President Bush in August 2007-"Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation." This order called for federal agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and management of game species. Closing the trails does just the opposite.

Trail closings can affect local businesses, too. Facing proposed closures of trails in Tennessee's Nantahala National Forest, Helen and Chuck Davis, who owned a cabin rental outfit, put up "For Sale" signs. "We are facing a difficult decision," Ms. Davis told the Cherokee Scout. "We have everything up for sale. We are struggling. This is due to bad government decisions."

TMPs are not isolated inconveniences cropping up somewhere across the country from you. It's a nationwide issue-OHV users went from 5 million in 1972 to 52 million in 2006, according to one study. And the chief of the Forest Service has identified unmanaged recreation-which includes cross-country OHV usage-as one of the four most critical threats to national forests today. TMPs are being developed at the Ranger District or Field Office levels. If there is no TMP in place on the BLM or Forest Service land where you hunt, you can bet one is coming. Each will be open for public comment-and it's critical that hunters get involved in that process.

"Hunters are in the best position to know how a draft TMP would affect the roads and trails they use during hunting season, and they need to provide that information to the agencies," said Recce, who has provided NRA's comments on many TMPs. "The public participation process begins with the announcement of the agency's intent to prepare a plan," she continued, "so the public has input before a draft plan is written. Once written, the public can comment on the alternatives for management that are addressed in the plan. Hunters have to be active players throughout the planning process. They have to take charge of protecting their own interests."

How do you find out when a TMP in your area is opening up for comment? NRA-ILA sends out email alerts on major issues that affect gun owners, including TMPs. To receive these emails, visit www.nraila.org, move your mouse to "Take Action" in the upper right, and click on "Email Signup."
(Also visit FS for the Forest Service TMP overview.)

TMPs have the potential to close down thousands of miles of roads and trails that sportsmen need to get into ever-shrinking public hunting lands, and there is substantial public sentiment in favor of closures. Yet in many cases hunters have been strangely quiet on the issue. In nearly a year of accepting public comment on the Humboldt-Toiyabe TMP, Forest Service officials received a grand total of 19 letters from citizens.

That's no way to make sure hunters' concerns are heard.

-- J.R. Robbins
Robbins is Managing Editor, NRAhuntersrights.org

Note: For tips on wise use of OHVs, visit www.treadlightly.org.

Article available at The Outdoor Wire

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