Let’s toss the politics of the day into the dumpster fire where they belong and talk for a second as anglers.
I’m a passionate fly fisherman who’s worried about the health of America’s lakes and streams, not to mention the fisheries they support. And if you crave blizzard hatches, rising fish and tight lines as much as I do, you should be worried, too.
It starts with the President. Science takes a back seat in the Trump White House, which is staffed at its highest ranks by climate deniers and enemies of the environment. Much of Congress, perhaps even a majority, can be described in a similar manner. It’s too bad, because climate change is already taking its toll on delicate, cold-water fisheries cherished by anglers.
One report, from the University of Massachusetts, found that high summer temperatures — expected to occur more frequently due to climate change — have a significant impact on the abundance of trout in a stream. Another study, from the Natural Resources Defence Council and Montana Trout Unlimited, found that global warming is already shrinking the Interior West’s cold-water habitat, half of which might vanish by the end of the century.
We’ve all seen examples of this ourselves. Here in California, I’ve called fly shops to inquire about particular streams only to be told they’re more or less dried up due to drought. “Haven’t been able to fish there in four years, bud.” And a couple autumns ago, in Maine, I remember spending my last evening at storied Grand Lake Stream sitting on the bank, drinking a beer and enjoying my surroundings rather than wetting a line. The river was so low and warm most salmon opted to stay upstream in the cooler waters of West Grand Lake. The fishing, as a result, was dismal.
Our government’s indifference to climate change is just the beginning. There are, unfortunately, plenty of other reasons anglers should be outraged.
First, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the leadership of Administrator Scott Pruitt, will seek to abolish the Clean Water Rule. Also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, the measure — a net positive for the economy — protects smaller streams and waterways under the Clean Water Act. If the rule is wiped off the books, polluters will be able to dump toxic waste in waters that were once off limits.
These are the creeks, brooks, marshes and bogs that often serve as factories of wild fish production — the places you stalk with one-weight rods and fish with calculated, bow-and-arrow casts. Water is famous for coming together with other water, which is why axing the Clean Water Rule will also affect fisheries downstream… all the way to the ocean.
Second, Congress voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule, an Obama-era regulation that more or less prohibits coal miners from obliterating mountaintops and dumping the resulting waste into fragile streams tumbling through the valleys below. The move is an unapologetic kowtow to the archaic coal industry, an important constituency to which certain elected officials made many promises as candidates.
Writing in the New York Times, Chris Wood, the President of Trout Unlimited, implores Trump to veto the bill. Wood cites the plight of Appalachia’s eastern brook trout, a beautiful fish so varied in its colors it looks as though it was hand-painted by a virtuoso. Once, while fishing in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, I hiked down from Skyline Drive and came upon a series of gin-clear plunge pools. Near the bottom of each, a handful of brookies floated like ghosts, betrayed by their outrageously orange bellies. With the Stream Protection Rule eliminated, magnificent fish like these that live in coal country are doomed.
Third, President Trump breathed new life into the infamous Pebble mine. The controversial project — which environmentalists, sportsmen, tribes and locals have successfully fought off for more than a decade — would put the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mine in the heart of Bristol Bay, a remote, unspoiled region of Alaska home to irreplaceable spawning grounds that produce much of the world’s salmon. Thankfully, the plan is unlikely to move forward after financial analysists called the project an economically unviable “boondoggle” and declared the parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, worthless.
Fourth, members of Congress are amending rules and passing legislation aimed at transferring ownership of America’s public lands to the states, where they will presumably be sold off to private interests like gas, oil and mining companies. This is a direct affront to anglers, who could lose access to their favorite runs and holes. So far, stalwarts of the outdoor industry, like Patagonia and Black Diamond, have taken a stand, inspiring sportsmen and sportswomen to do the same.
And as anglers, taking that stand and resisting is exactly what we must continue to do. Sportfishing is an impressive economy in and of itself, supporting 828,000 jobs and generating $48 billion in revenue every year. Being a fisherman means you’re part of a bloc of voters that has the power to affect policy — but only if you and everyone else participates. So write your representatives. Join organizations like Trout Unlimited. Talk to other anglers about what’s happening in DC.
Because in addition to being vital to America’s outdoor economy, fishing is how many of us unwind and pursue our inalienable right to happiness. Anyone who has stood in an icy stream and watched a colorful, wild trout glide backward with the current and rise to a mayfly knows that few things in life are better. Don’t let our elected officials take those moments away from future generations just to grease the pockets of fossil-fuel barons.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, because if you’re an angler, protecting America’s streams and fisheries is one issue that transcends partisanship — it’s a no brainer. Any action to the contrary by our representatives in Washington shows just how out of touch they are, not to mention how firm a grasp special interests have on their souls.