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

At the White House Conference on Conservation

I put my AFFTA hat on last Friday to participate in the White House Conference on Conservation. The conference was excellent and while I often grouse about having to “go to DC” this was time well spent.

The theme for the conference was “Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy.” A theme that is near and dear to our heart here at Dispatches. The drum beat of “habitat equals opportunity equals economic activity” is getting louder and I couldn’t be happier. It is to the great credit that the Administration, especially the Department of Interior, is championing the economic value of the conservation and outdoor recreation.

America’s Great Outdoors

The conference was part of the on-going America’s Great Outdoors initiative. The “on-going” is important to note. Since the Obama Administration rolled AGO out under the capable guidance of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his team, they have kept stakeholders and the public informed and engaged. This conference was the latest example.

The purpose of the conference was to “engage directly with conservation leaders from all 50 states to strengthen partnerships and identify next steps in advancing community-driven conservation and outdoor recreation initiatives that are building strong local economies and healthy lands, waters and wildlife across America.

Joining Salazar at the conference were Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Each participated in panel discussions to help frame the discussions in breakout sessions later in the day.

The three panels during the conference were (the links take you to videos of the panels):

Each panel was moderated by an administration official with remarks from folks who have experience or involvement in the subject areas. Of special note was Dave Perkins Vice-Chairman of the Orvis Company. Perkins was part of the Restoring Rivers panel and did a great job in connecting the dots to the economic contributions of river recreation and restoration. Having a major player from the fly-fishing industry was important recognition of both the economic and conservation contributions the industry makes.

The capstone to the day came with remarks from President Obama. Having the President come to Interior underscores the importance the administration puts on conservation and the impact of the recreational economy.

Focusing on specifics

In order for folks to talk about specific interests there were 11 breakout sessions:

  • Tourism and Outdoor Recreation
  • Coastal Conservation
  • Access: Recreation / Hunting & Fishing
  • Large Landscape Conservation
  • Urban Open Space
  • Rivers Restoration and Recreation
  • Youth and Outdoor Education
  • The 21st Century Service Conservation Corps, Youth Corps and Veterans Jobs
  • Historic and Cultural Preservation and Sacred Tribal Places
  • Public Lands Management and Conservation
  • National Park Second Century

These breakout sessions were used to learn from stakeholders what was working in the AGO initiative and more importantly what needed to be done.

I attended the Rivers Restoration and Recreation session moderated by Rock Salt from the Dept. of the Army (Civil Works) and Rebecca Wodder from Interior.

Wodder framed the discussion by asking, when it came to rivers, what works and what needs work.

National Water Trails

Earlier in the week, Salazar had signed a Secretarial Order establishing a National Water Trails system under the National Trails System Act.

“The order sets the framework for Secretarial designation of water trails that will help facilitate outdoor recreation on waterways in and around urban areas, and provide national recognition and resources to existing, local water trails.”

Many in the room pointed to the new National Water Trails as an important step forward and one that has great potential to provide stakeholders a way to promote water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America.

From AFFTA’s perspective, this is a great opportunity. It really is very simple, rivers are our business, they are the principal venues for our customers and clients. There is an indisputable nexus between the health of a river and its viability as a recreational resource.

I used the case of the Colorado River and its tributaries as an example. It was one the Secretary was familiar: “It’s a mecca of economic development in outdoor recreation, and that needs to be recognized in how we manage the Colorado River System.”   I encouraged them to remind Secretary Salazar and Asst Secretary Darcy to keep those economic impacts in mind when making decisions that affect water supply and quality.

I know that my AFFTA colleagues will welcome the chance to work on making the new National Water Trails system a recreational and economic success.

National Fish Habitat Partnership

Salazar also announced that is working with the Secretary Vilsack and Commerce Secretary John Bryson on a Memorandum of Agreement to ensure that Federal resources are effectively focused in support of the collaborative conservation efforts of the National Fish Habitat Partnership.

The National Fish Habitat Partnerships provide local, public-private conservation partnerships that are the foundation of the three part equation, “Habitat = Recreational Opportunity = Economic Activity, which so important to AFFTA. Healthy habitat and clean water create the venues for AFFTA member’s customers and clients.

The National Fish Habitat Action Plan and the National Fish Habitat Partnership are strongly supported by AFFTA and this announcement that an agreement is in the works is excellent news. This is an important step to having our federal partners work together to insure the success of the partnerships and the important work they do.

As a member of the steering committee of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, one of the 18 National Fish Habitat Partnerships, I know that a well coordinated effort with the various federal agencies can only help the EBTJV continue its successful efforts to ensure healthy, fishable brook trout populations throughout its historic range.

As someone who is often cynical about the value of these types of get togethers, this one was a winner. Sure there is more to be done but the America’s Great Outdoors initiative has been a lot more than rhetoric. The President has shown his support, traveling to the Department of Interior twice and hosting a gathering at the White House. There are AGO projects in 50 states.

Now with this engagement on rivers and fish habitat there is a new opportunity for anglers and the sport fishing industry. That can only be a good thing.


  1. Awesome stuff Tom! It’s nice to see an emphasis placed on the outdoors and all it provides from people in Washington. Thanks for all that you do

  2. River Mud says:

    The drumbeat does grow louder.  The simple fact is that we are a nation of 300 million plus, in a world of what’s soon to be 10 billion, by the time it stabilizes about 100 years from now.  All those people need clean air, clean water, and way more food than we’re currently producing.  And the food is impossible without clean water and healthy soil. 

    We have to realize that there’s no more “cheap food” or “free water.”  It already costs money to live on Planet Earth, and it’s going to cost more money.  Since humans started to aggregate in towns and cities about 2500 years ago, we’ve literally and proverbially been pissing in our drinking water and refusing to pay the bill.

    Well, the bill is starting to come due. 

  3. Thanks Sanders! This is a great chance to protect the outdoors and all that comes with it for future generations.

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