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

A Sea Change

“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular.” -Edward R. Morrow

This week I let the members and supporters of the Outdoor Writers Association of America know I was leaving my position as Executive Director and going to work for the Marine Fish Conservation Network. It was a difficult decision and one I did not make hastily or lightly, but in the end my heart and Morrow’s words won out.

I need no more reason why than this…

Truth be told the future of our marine resources for my grandchildren and their grandchildren weighed on me. I didn’t want to look back on my life and think I could have done more.

Jim Range and Jean Ince (courtesy of John Ince)

Memories of an old friend, Jim Range, reminded me; “Tommy we have to protect the wild things. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

I still have some fight left in me and want to get back in the game more directly.

Here is what I told the OWAA members and supporters:

It has been my pleasure and honor to serve as OWAA’s executive director for almost four years, but the time has come for me to move on. On Jan. 1, 2017, I will return to the advocacy world and join the Marine Fish Conservation Network as deputy director.

I assure you my leaving OWAA has nothing to do with the organization or anyone associated with it, but is solely motivated by my desire to “get back into the fight” and use my advocacy and organizing experience to protect our marine resources and the people that depend on them.

OWAA’s mission has never been more important, but my heart lies elsewhere. I know the organization is stable, has good leaders and will continue quite well without me. With Colleen Miniuk-Sperry taking over my duties, I know the day-to-day operations will continue seamlessly and the membership will be well served. I look forward to seeing and being part of OWAA’s continued success just in a different role as a member and a supporter.

During my time at OWAA I learned that we are a tribe, a guild, the keepers of the flame and take the work as chroniclers seriously. We are, in fact, the Voice of the Outdoors. OWAA is serious about our work as journalists and will vigorously defend the First Amendment. Our Circle of Chiefs are our conservation conscience and continue to remind us of important issues facing the future of the outdoors. And our conference is the best opportunity for liked-minded journalists to gather, learn and share.

Today, more than ever in OWAA’s 90-year history, the work we do as outdoor journalists is critically important, and we need to do it as well as we possibly can. To quote Edward R. Morrow, “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

I hope to see many of you in Duluth, Minnesota, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or at future conferences.

Midwinter Board Update

From OWAA Newsowaa-active-member

In January, when the Board met for the annual midwinter board meeting, I presented a report on the financial and operational status of the organization. Like previous reports, it focused primarily on the financial and membership aspects of OWAA operations. It is my pleasure to share that with you as well.

Even though 2014 saw some cash flow challenges, we are able to present a balanced budget for 2015. The key to our financial security continues to rest on the revenue side of our operations. We can’t “cut” our way to financial security; we need to “grow” our way there. As you will see below, we are making good progress.

Membership is up 10 percent as of December 2014 compared to May 2014 and Supporting Group affiliations are up 18 percent

Since the last board meeting the team at headquarters has been busy on a number of fronts, and here are some highlights of our efforts.

While the presentations were excellent, the attendance at Conference in McAllen, Texas, was a disappointment. There was a big lesson learned: No more conferences close to holidays.

When the U.S. Forest Service initiated a rulemaking on filming and commercial photography in wilderness areas we responded with press statements, columns in Outdoors Unlimited and blog posts. President Mark Freeman and I had telephone conversations and meetings with Forest Service leadership. We submitted written comments for the record. OWAA’ s efforts were acknowledged in USFS Chief Tidwell’s letter to the field clarifying the policy.

In order to help increase awareness of OWAA we sponsored the Press Room at the American Fly Fishing Trade Association’s International Fly Tackle Dealer show which is co-located with the American Sportfishing Association’s International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show.

I joined the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) and had the pleasure of attending their 50th anniversary conference. It was a great opportunity to visit with past and present OWAA notables. Board member Tim Mead very graciously made my “green ribbon” experience quite enjoyable. Thank you,Tim.

We added the Ocean Conservancy as a new EIC Fishing Category Co-Sponsor thanks to the good works of Brandon Shuler.

Working with the Strategic Planning committee we implemented a revised Strategic Plan -See Strategic Plan 2014 Update 2.

Finally, as we move into 2015 we will be focusing on having a successful conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, and looking at ways to improve member and supporter communications.

As always, your comments and suggestions are most welcome. Call me directly at 406-552-4049 or email me.

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.

Today’s Outdoor Media

From OWAA NewsRum Chron1.2

The outdoor communication industry has a rich history of helping the America people see the outdoors even if they couldn’t get outside themselves.

Kids curled up with flashlights and sporting maga­zines under their bed covers. Adults read newspapers in leather chairs while smoking a pipe and enjoying a single malt.

Magazine articles, TV shows and outdoor columns in newspapers, transported Americans into the great outdoors.

Today, OWAA members keep that tradition alive while we, as our missions says, “set the highest ethical and communications standards.”

We bring adventure, great storytelling and enter­tainment into the homes of the public, but even more importantly, outdoor journalists continue to play a criti­cal role in helping the American people see the value in the great outdoors while also calling attention to what threatens it.

The history of outdoor writers calling attention to bad land or wildlife management actions is legendary. Journalist can point out how, without public vigilance, their elected officials will sell that heritage to the highest bidder.

One of the more significant mission tenets of OWAA is “encour­age public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources.”

Outdoor journalists show a simple equation; healthy habitat creates recreation opportunities. And recreation drives significant economic activity. That is a message that resonates in the halls of power and is strong medicine in fighting for the protection of our natural resources.

OWAA members are the voices that show the world the grandeur of America’s outdoor resources. They are the voices that share the stories — good and bad — of our waters and woods.

Land, fish and wildlife don’t have human voices, so we must be the voice to reach the American people. My job is making sure our members have the tools and opportunities to be a loud and effective voice.

OWAA is comprised of more than 800 individual outdoor communicators covering a broad spectrum of outdoor beats, from shooting to camping, fishing to kayaking and wildlife watching to backpacking. From these diverse backgrounds and disciplines, members gather beneath the OWAA ban­ner to hone skills, share philosophies, develop profitable business strategies and network with peers, conservation policymakers and industry trendsetters.

Eighty-seven years ago the men who started OWAA thought the work they were doing as chroniclers of the great outdoors was important enough to found an organization to perpetuate the craft.

Today, access to public lands is shrinking, habitat loss is increas­ing and environmental issues complex. The work we do today as outdoor journalists is as important, perhaps even more so, then it was back then.

Bring the Outdoors Indoors: OWAA 2014-15 Traveling Photo Exhibit Available

From OWAA News
Dec,. 8, 2014
MISSOULA, Mont. – Winning photographs from the 2014 Excellence in Craft Contests awarded by the Outdoor Writers Association of America are available for display throughout the spring. Contact OWAA now to reserve your dates for hosting this exhibit!

The exhibit has appeared at a variety of venues throughout the years, including sportsmen’s shows, conferences, museums and schools.

The exhibit features 21 photographs from the contest’s seven categories: action, scenic, flora, fauna, people, outdoor fun and adventure, and family participation/youth outdoor education. Each year our winners include some of America’s best-known outdoor photographers from around the country.

Pictured below, “Fighting Pheasants” by Gary Kramer of Willows, California, won the 2014 People’s Choice Award. “Kayaking Superior” by James Smedley of Wawa, Ontario, received the prestigious Presidents’ Choice Award for 2014.


Hosting the exhibit costs only $150 plus one-way shipping of the materials. Dates are available beginning in January 2015 and throughout the spring.

To make your reservation, please contact Jessica Seitz at jseitz@owaa.org, 406-552-4047 or 406-728-7434. To ensure availability, please make your reservations by Dec. 19, 2014.

Many thanks to the 2014 sponsors:

  • Nation Rifle Association (Hunting or Shooting Sports category)
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts (Conservation category)
  • Realtree (Family Participation/Youth Outdoor Education category)

The OWAA Excellence in Craft Contests are open to all OWAA members and the 2015 contests are now open. For more information on the contests, rules and sponsors, visit http://owaa.org/eic.

OWAA submits comments on the U.S. Forest Service proposed directive for commercial filming in wilderness

From OWAA News

November 21, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. – The Outdoor Writers Association of America has submitted comments to the U.S. Forest Service on the proposed directive for commercial filming in wilderness.

OWAA’s comments recommend that the directive specifically exempt professional journalists, either working on media staff, working on an assignment for a media outlet or gathering information, images or footage with the intent to publish or air them in a media outlet.

“OWAA members appreciate and value the Forest Service, and specifically Chief Tidwell, reaching out and requesting our input in codifying rules that restrict the improper commercialization of federally designated wilderness areas without restraining the reporting dynamics of outdoor communicators,” said OWAA President Mark Freeman, outdoors columnist for the Mail Tribune in Medford, Oregon. “Our work brings real wilderness to life for Americans, our readers and viewers and owners of these spectacular lands.”

OWAA also recommended adding two definitions to the language, one defining “constitutionally protected activity of journalists” and one defining “journalist.” The first definition incorporates some of the language Chief Tidwell spelled out in his Nov. 4 letter stating his intentions for the rule. The second definition acknowledges the various kinds of journalists currently working in federally designated wilderness areas.

OWAA President Mark Freeman: 541-840-9477
OWAA Executive Director Tom Sadler: 406-552-4049


OWAA encourages our members to read the proposed directive and provide comments before the Dec. 3, 2014, deadline. (https://federalregister.gov/a/2014-21093).

Download a PDF of OWAA’s comments (http://owaa.org/file/usfs-filming-comments-by-owaa-11202014.pdf).

Download a PDF copy of Chief Tidwell’s letter (http://owaa.org/file/20141104CommercialFilming&PhotographyPermits.pdf).