Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

What’s the deal with these attacks on public land ownership?

My friend Andrew wrote on Facebook:
Tom – you are my trusted outdoorsman issue/policy guy :) What’s your take on this? It sure doesn’t sound good from here.
This being:  How Fishermen, Hunters, Bikers, and Hikers Are About to Lose Their Say on Public Land Use The Bureau of Land Management’s once bipartisan, “common-sense” planning 2.0 rule to give outdoor recreation a voice is now under fire. from MENSJOURNAL.COM

TS: One of a series of moves by House Republicans to thwart public use of public lands. No bueno. The good news is many outdoor groups are calling BS and fighting back. Over time I believe we will prevail until then it is #resist and #persist…

Andrew: ok thank you! Is there someone who is tracking the progress of stupidity like this so that citizens can weigh in with appropriate congresspeople? The outdoor coalition is pretty big and broad :).

TS: No single source at this point. Bookmark: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Outdoor Industry Association, American Fly Fishing Trade Association. Watch for press releases, policy updates and action alerts.

VA’s U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and U.S. Senator Mark Warner are usually pretty reliable on this stuff when they hear from folks. The key is they need to hear from folks as they are not on Committees that deal with this stuff. U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Comstock is new and not on relevant committees either. She would benefit from hearing your concerns.

From TRCP: Still Fired Up Over H.R. 621? Here Are Ten Other Threats to Public…

Andrew: One last question for you Tom – the bill that zeroes out the value of public lands, any idea what that is and where it stands? That one seemed a particularly onerous threat. Thanks much for the info friend!

TS:It was not a bill. It was a House Rule. It was agreed to and can and likely will be used to score legislation that includes or allows land disposal or transfer.

From WaPo: House GOP rules change will make it easier to sell off federal land – WASHINGTONPOST.COM BY JULIET EILPERIN

The pertinent language from the rules package reads in part; “requiring or authorizing a conveyance of Federal land to a State, local government, or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”

It is tied, as you see to budget mechanics, an area to complex to try and discuss here. Suffice it to say it does pretty much what Ms Eilperin says…

And my friend Steve pointed out correctly: Also, the Senate has not passed any such rules change, so land transfer legislation still violates Senate budget rules without and offset.

Andrew: OK – I did see that article a couple weeks back, but I’ve read my quota of WashPo articles already this month – time to subscribe! Now the question I need to go find an answer to – “What is the process for the federal government to sell off public land?” Does the Senate have any say? Secretary of the Interior, or Agriculture for national forest land? No problem if you don’t know those answers, then again, I guess those of us who care about these things better figure it out.

TS: Congress (meaning House and Senate) can legislate the disposal of federal land. If legislation is signed by the President into law (enacted) then it is a done deal. And there are case where the sale or transfer may make sense. The Secretaries of Interior or Agriculture, may make recommendations for sale or transfer but those would need to go thru the legislative process and be enacted into law.

I spent many years looking at this and it is not cut and dry on what is good to transfer and what is not good to transfer. There are a variety of programs that deal with transfer that are beneficial to good public land management.

Andrew: Thanks a ton for that! Hoping I understand correctly :) basically for those of us with an interest in public lands, the merits need to be looked at case by case, but the specific parcels proposed have to go through some kind of approval by full House and Senate, correct? And we’d be lucky if we even find out about it unless its particularly egregious, given how they stuff everything into one giant POS – usually the spending bill that keeps the government open for business – and shove it down our throats these days. Helps to know the process though! And I’d offer a final guess that monument designations like Bears Ears and Katahdin/North Woods, are a whole different process than above since they are designated by Executive branch?

TS: Yes the transfer has to be enacted. Yes, the projects could be enacted in “must pass” bills. I have seen that cut both ways however with good projects being protected. Yes monuments are designated by the President and the authority to do so comes from the Antiquities Act. Which by the way is under attack. Bears Ears has the Utah delegation apoplectic…

Permits for filming on federal public lands

From OWAA News

Feb. 13, 2015

Contact: OWAA President Mark Freeman

Below is a summary of the position we have developed with respect to the U.S. Forest Service proposed regulations requiring permits to film on Forest Service land.

While we await a new directive from the Forest Service based on very positive comments offered last fall, there is now another venue in which fees and permits for news gathering on all public lands is being vetted.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, introduced in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 5, includes a $200 per year permit proposal for any crews of five people or smaller while filming on all public lands. It currently does not offer exemptions for working journalists as Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell outlined in how he wants the current temporary rules applied on Forest Service land.

We maintain that lumping journalists who are disseminating information about the public’s own lands with television advertising and feature film crews’ work could lead to serious First Amendment implications and quite likely infringements.

While we are limited in what we can do in terms of lobbying on legislative matters as a nonprofit organization, OWAA members may inform their representatives and senators about their personal views on this sliver (Section 106) of the Sportsmen’s Act.

Access to Public Lands for Journalists

The Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) believes improvements should be made to directives regulating commercial filming or photography on public land so as not to impede the important work of any OWAA member or other professional journalists. The OWAA is especially concerned about the impact existing federal regulations have on our members who are freelancers.

Based on our discussions with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell during the Forest Service’s rulemaking “Proposed Directive for Commercial Filming in Wilderness” and a review of existing rules, OWAA strongly believes all agency regulations of this nature should specifically exempt professional journalists, working on an assignment for a media outlet or gathering information, images or footage to sell to a media outlet. Such directives must be fully communicated to the field.

  • A clearly stated exemption for working media is needed to ensure that the language does not accidentally put federal land managers in a position of violating the First Amendment freedoms against prior restraint.
  • Definitions of journalism should include but not be limited to breaking news, b-roll film, feature news, news documentaries, long-form pieces, background, blogs and any other output that could be considered related to news gathering or reporting.
  • The OWAA recommends language be added addressing the scope of the regulations so that the newsgathering definition and exemption for working journalists will be consistently interpreted by all present and future federal employees.
  • OWAA members appreciate and value our natural resources and seek rules that restrict the improper commercialization of federal lands, especially designated wilderness areas, without restraining the reporting dynamics of outdoor communicators. Our work brings the majesty of public lands to life for Americans, our readers and viewers and owners of these spectacular lands.

First Amendment Protection
In order to address these First Amendment concerns, OWAA recommends the following language be added to regulations of this nature: “Constitutionally protected activity of journalists, as used in these regulations, includes journalists, working on an assignment for a media outlet, or gathering information, images or footage with the intent to sell them to a media outlet.”

This language would address the range of professional activities by OWAA members, including journalists on assignment – either freelancers or staffers – as well as journalists packaging a story for future sale to a yet-unidentified media outlet. This so-called “working on spec” is common, for instance, in the magazine publishing realm when publishers enter into contractual agreements only for completed works. It would include filming b-roll film for future stories not yet assigned or sold.

The specifically stated exemption is important because it best reflects the industry of today and the future. While the term “filming” may have been intended to mean movies or commercials, it incorrectly encompasses activities by virtually all outdoor media professionals working today. Even newspaper staffers routinely shoot videos, sometimes with just their phones, as an extra medium published on newspapers’ websites.

Under existing regulations, federal land managers could believe it their duty to make sure working journalists are following the filming and photography requirements before those activities occur. This could lead to, for example, a federal employee improperly requiring that a journalist apply for a permit for review to determine whether he or she considers the planned newsgathering activity as meeting public land access criteria. This therefore would become an unprecedented review of a journalist’s activities prior to publishing – a violation of First Amendment protections against prior restraint by government.

Without this clearly stated exemption, both federal agencies and working journalists could misinterpret the language and intent, resulting in inconsistent application of the rules and serving no positive end.

Consistent Interpretation
The term “newsgathering” is subject to a range of interpretations. Some suggest that it means coverage of breaking news, such as wildfires.
But the newsgathering process actually accounts for a wide array of activities, from breaking news to news-features to profiles and the collection of B-roll footage.

The OWAA also recommends the following language be added addressing the scope of the regulations so that the newsgathering definition and exemption for working journalists will be consistently interpreted by all present and future federal employees. This proposal is based upon language in the National Park Service regulations addressing this issue.

“Newsgathering activities and other constitutionally protected activities of journalists involving filming, videography or still photography do not require a permit unless:
(1) A permit is necessary to protect natural and cultural resources, to avoid visitor use conflicts, to ensure public safety or authorize entrance into a closed area; and
(2) Obtaining a permit will not interfere with the ability to gather the news or with other constitutionally protected activities of journalists.”


Download a copy of the position paper.

Our Public Lands (Part 3) – The Local View.

OIA OutRecEcon Rpt“All politics is local,” Tip O’Neill once said. So when the Outdoor Industry Association released its 50 state report on the outdoor recreation economy I quickly downloaded the numbers for Virginia.

According to the OIA, Virginia outdoor recreation generates:
• $13.6 billion in direct consumer spending,
• $ 3.9 billion in wages and salaries,
• $ 923 million in state and local tax revenue, and
• accounts for 138,000 direct jobs.

If you spend time in Virginia’s great outdoors, whether it is hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, hunting or fishing you know that many, if not most of the places where you do those things are public lands. Unfortunately recognition of this economic driver by the Commonwealth’s elected officials, at any level is few and far between.

If you like to play outdoors then you just might ask those same elected officials what they are doing to help this important segment of our local economy.
Give them the facts; let them know our public lands provide the venues for many recreational activities that in turn power that economic engine.
Make them tell you why other, more consumptive and less sustainable uses should take precedence over recreation.

You can see what outdoor recreation means to your state’s economy and download the report on OIA’s Outdoor Recreation Economy page.

The outdoor recreation economy is an economic powerhouse, now it needs to be a political powerhouse!

US Forest Service Public Affairs Conference

A very nice thank you note!

Last month, my friend Steve Bekkrus asked me to come to Atlanta and give a presentation to the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region Public Affairs conference. He asked me to give a presentation on the impact of the recent election and also on how to more effectively educate and engage Congress. I was delighted to have the opportunity and really enjoyed the conference.

It was a great opportunity to talk with public affairs professionals who work hard to make our public lands a national treasure. These are sharp professionals and it was a lively discussion.

As a follow up I sent them this list of ‘Take Aways.” [Read more…]

Our Public Lands (Part 1)

Regular readers know that the prevailing theme of the conservation posts on Dispatches is summed up in this simple equation: access to healthy habitat creates recreational opportunity and that creates economic activity and jobs.

By and large that healthy habitat is found on the lands owned by all Americans and managed by federal, state and local governmental agencies on our behalf. If you think about it for a minute without those national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, wildlife management areas, local parks and greenways we would be hard pressed to find places to play outside.

All to often we take these public lands and the people who manage them for granted. We forget that those lands create jobs in many local communities far beyond the governmental jobs. Gas stations, diners, motels, hunting and fishing retail stores, all are small business in local communities that benefit from public lands.

Of course just because I think public lands are a good thing doesn’t mean everyone does. My years as a conservation lobbyist has taught me different. I know there are elected officials who are skeptical about the value of public lands (more on that in future posts).

So what does the general public think about our public lands?

Let’s look at a recent post, “Government does a good job of protecting our natural history” in the Hill’s Congress Blog:

“Fully 87 percent of American voters agree that their “state and national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of my state’s quality of life.” A near-unanimous 96 percent of those we polled in six inner West states likewise agreed.

But voters don’t stop there. Seven-in-ten Americans and nine in ten Westerners agree that these public lands are “an essential part” of their state’s economy. Think about it: in six states with some of the highest proportions of land in public hands, voters were even more likely to view those lands as a valuable economic resource. The numbers quantify what voters tell us in Western focus groups: that public lands bring tourists, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists to spend money in their communities; that their neighbors moved there for the clean air, trails, and trout fishing; that a growing company chose their town because they knew future workers would find the nearby natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities desirable too.”

Our public lands are something to be proud of. Maybe it is time we remind our elected officials and the politicians just how proud we are of them.

Give that some thought.

Public Lands Make Business Sense

My friend Johnny LeCoq of Fishpond  likes to make ripples. He recently did an ad for the Small Business Majority and the message is one familar to readers of this blog.

 “As a company that offers outdoor products, it’s important to us that we use our business to spread the word on issues that revolve around the outdoors. We didn’t start the company this way, but it became who we are because of the big impact that protecting the outdoors has on the success of our business. ”

Give the ad 30 seconds of your time and see if you don’t agree.


Our national energy policy must recognize the value our public land have to small business and must include protection for public lands. In Colorado for example, this is confirmed by opinion polling released by Small Business Majority.

“Our nation’s most prolific job creators are asking that smart steps are taken to preserve Colorado’s natural assets because they believe it’s good for business,” said John Arensmeyer, founder & CEO of Small Business Majority. “It’s evident public lands play an important role in entrepreneurs’ decisions to open businesses in Colorado. And they’ve seen firsthand that protecting those areas can attract business, which is why they’d like to see national monuments established to preserve them, and it’s why they are asking lawmakers to balance public lands protection as they develop new energy policies.”

Small businesses are an important economic engine in this country and our public lands are a critical component. They both deserve our attention and support!

doing a little business myself...