Conservation Finds Renewed Importance in Dire Economic Straits

“Conservation is a luxury we simply can’t afford.”  This is what sportsmen and women were told in 2011 as the House of Representatives passed a budget that eliminated or eviscerated almost every major conservation program, from wetlands conservation and public lands management funding to the Open Fields program that encourages landowners to open their lands to public hunting and fishing.

Finally, anti-conservation members of Congress had their excuse to attack programs that they had never liked, programs they believe thwart the full development of our natural resources. A slew of “riders” unrelated to the budget proved that this was more about ideology than deficit reduction.

But faced with giving up a century of conservation progress, hunters and anglers came together and reached out to the outdoor recreation and historic preservation communities to make the case that conservation is not a luxury; it is fundamental to what makes America great and it provides jobs.  The coalition, called America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation, now boasts more than 1,200 groups, including many of our partners.

It released a comprehensive economic study that showed hunting and fishing, other outdoor recreation, and historic preservation support 9.4 million American jobs, result in $1.06 trillion in annual economic impact and generate $107 billion annually in tax revenue. And these are jobs that cannot be exported.

It’s also important to note that conservation did not create the budget deficit and it cannot solve the problem.  As a percentage of federal spending, conservation has decreased from about 2.5 percent in the 1970 to about 1.26 percent today.

You could eliminate every conservation program and barely make a dent in the deficit.  Moreover, as everyone who has ever worked on a local conservation project knows, every dollar of federal funds is leveraged several times over by state and private funds and volunteer labor.

I am pleased to report that common sense finally ruled the day and the Senate reinstated about $1.8 billion in conservation funds in the final budget agreement.  But the House is now poised to repeat history by passing a bill almost identical to its 2011 disaster.

Once again it is time for sportsmen and women of all stripes to speak up for what Theodore Roosevelt called the common man’s birthright.

A Simple Mission

Here at the TRCP, our mission is simple. In order to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, we strengthen laws, policies and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation by leading partnerships that influence decision makers.

A Moose Shed That’s Bigger Than My Head

Portland Stock Cleaver with a moose shed found on a recent camping trip. Photo courtesy of Erica Stock.

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The Broad Country We Both Loved…

Roosevelt called often at my office to discuss the broad country we both loved, and we came to know each other extremely well. Though chiefly interested in big game and its hunting, and telling interestingly of events that had occurred on his hunting trips, Roosevelt enjoyed hearing of the birds, the small mammals and the incidents of travel of early expeditions on which I had gone. He was always fond of natural history, having begun, as so many boys have done, with birds; but as he saw more and more of outdoor life his interest in the subject broadened and later it became a passion with him.

- George Grinnell

Excerpt from American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation by John F. Reiger.

Erica M. Stock

Image Courtesy Erica Stock.

Current location: Denver, Colo.

A self-proclaimed “native trout freak” Erica Stock has been working in the conservation arena for more than 10 years. Erica got her start on the water in Oregon where she fell in love with salmonids. She currently resides in Colorado with her daughter, Portland, and husband, Tim. When she’s not out bow hunting or fly fishing, Erica spends her time rallying for native trout restoration and habitat conservation projects throughout the west.

What are you up to right now?

I like to joke that I have two full-time jobs. I’m working as the outreach director for Colorado Trout Unlimited and the director of strategic partnerships for the Western Native Trout Initiative.

Why are you so passionate about native trout?

Native trout are majestic fish. Each one is distinct and beautiful. Once they are gone you can’t go into a lab, re-create them and put them back in a river somewhere.

Native fish have been reduced to such a small fraction of their historical range that some species have been lost all together. It would be a shame to see this trend continue, but, given all the threats faced by native trout, it is a very real possibility.

That’s where groups like WNTI and TU come in. Both of these organizations have been integral in uniting the community and developing the National Fish Habitat Action Plans. These plans give us a glimmer of hope.

Tell us a little bit about National Fish Habitat Action Plans.

These plans encourage collaboration between different state agencies, federal agencies, local partners and non-profit organizations that have an interest in fish conservation and management. These plans allow for much more progress than if all these groups were working separately.

Prior to the establishment of these plans, there was so much fragmentation and inefficiency. Everyone was out doing what they thought were the top priorities – using their own science or no science at all. NFHAPs provide a game plan so individuals and groups can work together toward the common goal of rebuilding some of these fish populations.

Tell us about what you do for TU.

I work with our grassroots; Trout Unlimited has 23 chapters and 10,000 individual members in Colorado. I work with these partners on some great native trout projects and projects that benefit local communities directly – regardless of whether there are native trout involved.

How did you get into fishing?

I was on the Deschutes River in northwestern Oregon doing invasive plant removal. We were just getting off the river for the day when I decided to pick up my friend’s fly rod. It was on an Orvis four-piece rod. I was immediately hooked.

What are some of the greatest threats faced by fish populations?

There are 15 native trout for which WNTI works. Seven of these are threatened and the remainder are species of concern. Development has degraded important habitat for a long period of time. The introduction of non-native species like rainbow and brown trout has caused serious competition between native and non-native species. These non-native fish will hybridize with the natives, destroying their genetic purity.

Climate change is another big threat to native trout. We need to make sure these fish are going to have habitat as the climate shifts. Fortunately these fish are in headwaters and roadless areas on public lands – and that’s no coincidence. The best hunting and fishing are found in roadless areas. We need to be sure these areas remain pristine and relatively untouched.

Check out “TRCP’s Native Trout Adventures,” a video series featuring native trout fishing expeditions in spectacular landscapes across the Rocky Mountain West.

Learn more about the Western Native Trout Initiative.

How did T.R. permanently lose the use of his left eye?

Submit your answers here.

We’ll send the winner a blaze orange TRCP hat.

Congratulations to John Lickteig for answering last month’s question correctly.

The question: What famous African hunter regaled T.R. and Kermit with stories during their voyage to Africa?

The answer: Frederick Courteney Selous

Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion

Growing up on the banks of the Yellowstone River in the trout-crazy town of Billings, Mont., Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion were primed for a life chasing salmonids with fly rods.
All three have decades of experience guiding in exotic locations about which most anglers can only dream. In 1995, Dan, the oldest of the Vermillion boys, abandoned his career as a lawyer to join his brothers and a small group of guides to form Sweetwater Travel, a fly fishing travel company specializing in delivering anglers to some of the world’s greatest waters.

Throughout the quest, which included countless exploratory trips that often resulted in dead ends, the Vermillion brothers recognized the need to be active in conserving the natural resources upon which their fishing operations rely. Whether advancing the Taimen Conservation Fund, formed by Sweetwater Travel to conserve Taimen populations in Mongolia, or working in British Columbia to prevent overfishing of steelhead, Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion are dedicated conservationists who take nothing for granted.

Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion. Photo courtesy Sweetwater Travel.

Dan Vermillion: “When you are lucky enough to make your living off of the bountiful natural resources that are found in places that are yet to be overly disturbed by a human presence, you feel a responsibility to keep those opportunities alive for generations in the future.”

One of the perks of being a fly fishing guide is the chance to meet some extraordinary people. In 2009 on his way to vacation in Yellowstone National Park, President Barack Obama stopped for a float trip down the East Gallatin River. Dan Vermillion served as his guide. Dan was presented with the rare opportunity to spend several hours fishing with the president of the United States – with no cameras or media present.

Were you able to do a little lobbying on behalf of sportsmen?

Dan Vermillion: “I didn’t really have to. Several times during the day we talked about water rights, we talked about water flows. He told me very clearly that he didn’t grow up hunting and fishing but that it is really important that we continue those traditions in the U.S. He said the key to those traditions lasting is caring for the resources that provide us with the ability to hunt and fish.”

Do you think he was genuine?

Dan Vermillion: “I do. I came away from my time with him feeling that he was the most genuine politician I have ever met, besides maybe Jon Tester. And I’ve met a lot of them.”

Dan and President Obama celebrating after hooking a trout. Photo courtesy whitehouse.gov.

What do you see as the biggest threats to hunting, fishing and conservation?

Dan Vermillion: “I see two threats. The big threat, of course, is just the onward march of human beings to every corner of the planet. Unfortunately, whenever human beings seem to interact with a lot of these places that produce quality recreational opportunities for hunting and fishing, the hunting and fishing species tend to not do too well. But the reason that it is consistently allowed to happen is that the people that love to hunt and fish, with exceptions, of course, don’t tend to make decisions in the rest of their lives that are reflective of their dedication to hunting and fishing. They’ll go out and support politicians or they’ll support certain policies that ultimately undercut their ability to have quality hunting and fishing opportunities in their backyards; but they never put two and two together.”

The most pressing conservation issue in which the Vermillions have become engaged is the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Sweetwater Travel owns two lodges in Alaska that lie on either side of the proposed mine. Last month, Dan and Pat were among 40 sportsmen leaders from 17 states participating in a trip to Washington, D.C., to press Congress and the Obama administration to protect Bristol Bay and its unrivaled salmon fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine.

“Obviously it’s a potential threat to the businesses, but that’s not the main reason we’re backing this up,” said Pat Vermillion. “We’re backing this up more for the potential damage to the salmon runs.” The sportsmen delivered a letter to the Obama administration from more than 500 hunting and angling groups around the country who want the EPA to take action under the Clean Water Act to conserve Bristol Bay.

Dan Vermillion: “I think that Pebble Mine fly-in was one of the most impressive groups of people I’ve ever been around. As a group, we presented a compelling message, and that message was that Bristol Bay is far too important, not just to fishermen and hunters of the world, but also the native communities that live and have lived there for thousands of years. There’s no justification whatsoever for an open pit mine to be put smack dab in the middle of the last significant large sockeye salmon run.”

Pat Vermillion: “Pebble is something that will go through unless people are active and actively try and stop it. It’s way too big of a deposit. If people don’t stand up and get active and push, the mine is definitely going to happen. That’s what makes it such a compelling cause and one that needs to be recognized on a national basis.”

Dan Vermillion: “We took our message to the Hill, and I don’t think any of them felt that strongly that this mine has to go forward. And I think the same thing is true with Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA. Something she said really struck me, and I may not have it quite right. To paraphrase, she said that this discussion is not about always having the opportunity to fish for and experience the wild sockeye runs of Bristol Bay, but it’s about always having the ability to dream about going up there someday. Of critical importance is the simple fact that it’s out there and that makes our world a better place to live.” Learn more about the Vermillion brothers.Learn more about Save Bristol Bay.

There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than…

“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

From Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, 1905.