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Understanding the WEST Act and the Debate Over BLM’s Public Land Rule

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Last week, the House of Representatives passed the WEST Act, a significant piece of legislation that, if approved by the Senate, would nullify the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new “Conservation and Landscape Health” rule. This rule, aimed at elevating conservation priorities on 245 million acres of federal public land, has sparked intense debate among lawmakers and stakeholders across the political spectrum.

The WEST (Western Economic Security Today) Act narrowly passed the House by a vote of 212 to 202, underscoring the contentious nature of the issue. At its core, the debate revolves around concerns that the BLM’s rule would disrupt decades of traditional land management practices in the Western United States, impacting industries such as grazing, mining, and energy development.

Critics of the BLM rule, including conservative lawmakers and industry representatives, argue that elevating conservation to equal status with traditional land uses could have far-reaching economic repercussions for Western states. They contend that the rule, if implemented, could undermine rural economies and impede public access to federal lands.

One of the most contentious aspects of the BLM rule is its provision for “conservation leasing,” which introduces market-driven mechanisms for habitat conservation on BLM lands. Under this provision, developers impacting BLM lands could be required to mitigate their environmental footprint through habitat conservation measures, creating a novel approach to balancing development and conservation interests.

Despite its potential benefits for ecological resilience and habitat restoration, the conservation leasing provision has faced staunch opposition from some quarters. Critics fear that it could empower conservation groups to outbid traditional BLM users for land leases, leading to conflicts over land use and management priorities.

However, proponents of conservation leasing argue that it represents an innovative, market-based solution to the challenges of public land management. By incentivizing collaborative conservation efforts and providing additional funding streams for habitat restoration, conservation leasing has the potential to deliver tangible benefits for both wildlife and local communities.

Ultimately, the fate of the WEST Act and the BLM’s public land rule hinges on the deliberations of the Senate. While the Democrat-majority Senate is expected to reject the provision, the debate underscores the complexities of public land management and the competing interests at play.

As stakeholders continue to weigh in on this critical issue, it is essential to seek common ground and explore solutions that balance conservation objectives with the economic needs of Western states. By fostering dialogue and collaboration, we can chart a path forward that ensures the sustainable management of our nation’s public lands for generations to come.

What do you think of the debate over BLM’s public land rule? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

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Ohio’s Gobblers Facing Harder Times

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Spring turkey season results suggest that Ohio’s gobbler hunters might be facing tougher times. While the situation isn’t dire yet, any hopes for a quick rebound to the bountiful days of the past remain unfulfilled.

The 2024 spring turkey season concluded last Sunday in 83 South Zone counties, including central Ohio. The Ohio Division of Wildlife reported a total harvest of 15,426 turkeys, which is a slight decrease from last year’s total of 15,550. This year’s total includes birds taken during the statewide youth season in April, 30 days of hunting in the South Zone, and the first 23 days of hunting in the Northeast Zone. Hunting in the five Northeast Zone counties (Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Trumbull) ends at sunset this Sunday.

Although the 2024 numbers are an improvement over the alarming results of 2021 (14,546) and 2022 (11,872), they still fall short of the more prolific years. For instance, the 2018 spring take was 22,612, and the 2017 take was 21,096. From 2000 to 2010, the spring harvest exceeded 20,000 birds eight times, peaking at 26,156 in 2001.

In 1993, the Ohio Division of Wildlife introduced a two-bird limit in the 42 open counties, although the second permit initially cost double the price of the first. This premium was dropped by 2003. The two-bird limit remained until 2022 when the declining turkey population led to a reduction in the spring limit to a single bird for the first time in almost 30 years.

Some have suggested eliminating the fall turkey season or imposing restrictions on targeting hens to help the population recover. However, the wildlife division has maintained a short fall season and continues to allow the harvest of a single turkey of either sex.

An ongoing research project in Ohio aims to track changes in wild turkey habits and examine the potential effects of environmental conditions. The goal is to identify measures that could enhance survival rates. Falling turkey populations are a common worry among both gobbler advocacy groups and state and local wildlife agencies nationwide.

Of the 83 counties where the turkey hunting season has ended, Belmont led with 451 birds checked, followed closely by Monroe and Tuscarawas, each with 447. Among central Ohio counties, Licking finished top with 255 birds, followed by Fairfield (91), Delaware (78), Union (44), Franklin (17), Pickaway (14), and Madison (4).

Leave your thoughts about the situation in Ohio in the comments below. 

 

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Five Years After Supreme Court Decision, Tribal Hunting Rights Still Murky

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Nearly five years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision recognizing the treaty-based hunting rights of Native American tribes. Despite this, many legal and policy questions regarding where, when, and if certain Native Americans are bound by state hunting regulations remain unresolved. Two months ago, a lower federal court issued an order related to tribal elk hunting in the Bighorns, but the clarity hunters and tribal members hoped for remains elusive.

Observers expected that lingering legal questions would be resolved through various court cases. However, Wyoming’s decision to drop charges in the partially remanded Herrera v. Wyoming case has left many issues unresolved. This decision has unexpectedly elevated the importance of another case dating back to 1989, involving Thomas Ten Bear, a member of the Crow Tribe, who was convicted of elk poaching in the Bighorns. Like the Herrera case, Ten Bear’s situation revolves around the prosecution of Crow Tribal members for killing elk in a national forest in Wyoming without a state-issued permit.

Ten Bear’s Case and the Supreme Court Precedent

Years before the Supreme Court’s Herrera ruling, Ten Bear sought to have his nearly 35-year-old poaching conviction overturned. With the new precedent in place, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson issued a 27-page order in late March, partially granting Ten Bear and the Crow Tribe’s requests for relief. Johnson’s decision clarified some key legal questions, establishing that statehood admission does not abrogate treaty rights and that the creation of a national forest does not render the land “occupied,” thus not nullifying the Crow Tribe’s treaty hunting rights.

Despite these clarifications, significant questions remain about off-reservation hunting. There are ambiguities about when portions of a national forest—or any land—can be considered “occupied” and thus off-limits to treaty-based tribal hunting. Additionally, questions about “conservation necessity”—the conditions under which the state could regulate or prevent tribal hunting outside of reservation boundaries—are still unanswered.

Judge Johnson’s ruling was specific to Ten Bear’s case and did not provide broad answers to these complex issues. The limits of what a court can definitively resolve were evident in his narrow approach, which left many aspects of off-reservation hunting rights open to interpretation and further negotiation.

A Call for Agreement

Cheyenne attorney David Willms believes that Wyoming and tribal residents with treaty hunting rights still lack a clear blueprint for resolving off-reservation tribal hunting. Judge Johnson’s ruling suggested that the state and tribes should work together to strike a balance between treaty-based rights and state sovereignty over natural resources. The Supreme Court’s Herrera v. Wyoming ruling also implied that these two aspects are “necessarily compatible.”

In the five years since the Herrera decision, there has been one significant legislative effort in Wyoming to make off-reservation hunting compatible with state regulations. During the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 general session, a tribal agreement bill was introduced, granting the governor the authority to negotiate state-tribal pacts for off-reservation hunting and angling seasons outside of Game and Fish Department regulations.

However, the bill faced opposition from tribes like the Shoshone-Bannock, who argued that they were excluded from the drafting process and that the bill was too prescriptive, violating their sovereignty. The legislation ultimately died, leaving tribal hunting rights unresolved and further complicating state-tribal relations.

Since the legislative effort failed, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has maintained that tribal members without standard permits can be cited for off-reservation hunting violations. Meanwhile, Montana has taken a different approach, instructing its wardens not to cite Crow Tribe members who violate state hunting laws, reflecting a more lenient stance on treaty rights.

Despite the legal and legislative deadlock, Wyoming officials remain hopeful for a negotiated agreement. Governor Mark Gordon emphasized the need for government-to-government negotiations with the tribes to mutually agree on off-reservation hunting, considering it a more positive and productive approach than litigation.

Towards a Resolution

Resolving these issues outside of the courtroom appears to be the best path forward. Both sides need to find common ground and address the concerns that have previously derailed efforts. Lessons from past negotiations, particularly the importance of inclusive and respectful dialogue, are crucial for future success.

The hope is that, with time, both the state and the tribes will be ready to re-engage in discussions and develop a framework that honors treaty rights while ensuring sustainable wildlife conservation. As the dust settles, there is cautious optimism that an agreement can be reached, benefiting both tribal members and the broader community.

What do you think of the legal issues surrounding tribal hunting? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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Bear Kebabs Cause Serious Parasitic Disease in South Dakota Family

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Six family members were sickened with a rare parasitic disease caused by roundworm larvae after they ate kebabs made of bear meat. The outbreak, which occurred in July 2022 during a family reunion in South Dakota, has highlighted the importance of properly cooking wild game meat to avoid serious health risks.

A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week revealed new details about this unusual outbreak. The nine-person family reunion included a meal featuring bear meat kebabs brought by one family member from a black bear hunt in northern Canada. The bear meat had been stored in a household freezer for 45 days before being thawed and cooked.

Cooking Mishap Leads to Illness

The family prepared the bear meat kebabs alongside grilled vegetables. Due to the dark color of the meat, they had difficulty determining whether the kebabs were fully cooked, leading to the meat being served and eaten rare. This mistake had severe consequences.

About a week later, a 29-year-old man in Minnesota, who had attended the reunion, developed a fever, severe muscle pain, and swelling around his eyes. He was hospitalized twice due to the severity of his symptoms. Tests confirmed that he had antibodies for Trichinella, a type of roundworm. Five other family members soon exhibited similar symptoms, including fevers, headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, muscle pain, and swelling around the eyes.

Two family members who had been exposed did not develop symptoms, and the CDC could not confirm whether the ninth attendee had been exposed to Trichinella. The CDC tested the remaining frozen bear meat and detected larvae from the same roundworm species, confirming the source of the infection.

Understanding Trichinellosis

The CDC presumed that all six family members had trichinellosis, a disease caused by consuming undercooked meat contaminated with Trichinella larvae. Trichinellosis is relatively rare in the United States. From January 2016 to December 2022, the CDC identified only seven trichinellosis outbreaks in the U.S., involving 35 probable or confirmed cases, most of which were linked to bear meat.

Bear meat is a known source of Trichinella infection. Freezing meat is often thought to kill parasites, but this is not always effective. The bear meat at the family reunion was contaminated with a species of Trichinella found in Arctic bears, which is resistant to freezing.

Cooking Wild Game Meat Safely

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The CDC’s report emphasizes that the only reliable way to kill Trichinella parasites is by thoroughly cooking the meat. They recommend cooking wild game meat to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, verified with a meat thermometer rather than relying on the meat’s color.

Additionally, the CDC warns about the risk of cross-contamination. Even if you don’t eat the meat, consuming vegetables or other foods that have been in contact with the meat or its juices can lead to infection. This was evident in the case of two family members who ate only the vegetables but still became ill.

Three of the family members who had consumed the bear meat were hospitalized and treated with albendazole, a medication that kills parasitic worms and their larvae. Thankfully, all six people recovered from the disease, but their experience serves as a stark reminder of the importance of food safety when preparing wild game.

For experienced hunters and fishermen, the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of a successful catch are unparalleled. However, this incident underscores the critical need to prioritize safety when handling and preparing wild game meat. Ensuring that meat is cooked thoroughly can prevent serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses.

As the popularity of consuming wild game continues to grow, it’s essential to remember that proper food handling and cooking practices are not just guidelines—they are vital steps in protecting your health and the health of your loved ones. Always use a meat thermometer to verify cooking temperatures and be vigilant about preventing cross-contamination in your kitchen. Your diligence can make the difference between a memorable meal and a dangerous outbreak.

Do you eat bear meat? Have you ever gotten sick from it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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