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

The Coin of the Realm is Action

Absaroka Wilderness Kiosk Sign_edited-1“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

Readers of the conservation topics in this blog know that I take the conservation of our public lands very seriously. At its core is the firmly held belief that access to healthy habitat creates recreational opportunity that leads to economic activity.

When those values are threatened by our elected officials or thinly veiled campaigns to discredit the good guys then we must do more than hope things will change.

To that end, below are some recent articles that shine a light on the importance of our public lands and the perils of doing nothing. Each is worth a read, but more importantly each must be seen as a call to action.

Todd Tanner’s post, Insidious: Let’s Stop Our Losing Streak from The Flyfish Journal and reprinted in Hatch Magazine is the strong medicine and dead on target.

When you think about it, none of this is complicated. If we want to save our tarpon, we need to get off our asses and fight. The same applies for our trout, and our salmon, and our bonefish, and our smallmouth bass. Nobody else gives a shit whether we’ll still have steelhead in 50 years. Nobody else cares if our snowpack melts away and our rivers run low and hot; nobody else gives a damn if ocean acidification renders our favorite saltwater fisheries bare of everything except an endless armada of jellyfish. It’s on us. Here’s a news flash: it’s always been on us…

Passion, though, has its price. We have to stand up for our fish, and for our waters. If we don’t, then we’re nothing more than parasites boring into nature’s soft underbelly, taking nourishment but giving nothing back; assholes of The Ancient Hybernian Order of Assholes. Is that a little harsh? No, it’s not. If we hope to wade into cold, clear rivers 20 years from now, and if we hope to stalk pristine saltwater flats, then we have to pay the piper. And like it or not, the coin of the realm is action.

As Tanner points out, we are our own worse enemy. We hope the same approaches that worked 20 years ago will somehow bear fruit these days. I think it is a fools errand. We need more voices raised in protest, more pitch forks and torches, more hard and pointed questions asked of our elected officials. The days when the political maxim “go along to get along” was king are dead. Long live the king.

The battlegrounds will continue to be our public lands. The attacks are nothing new and have a one-sided notion of what the public benefit is. Rarely is it of benefit to those of us who cherish the great outdoors.

In Government Property, Stalking the Seam’s Matt Copeland reminds us of the economics of lost adventure and the soul healing value of public land.

What kind of tracks does the X-Box leave, and what do they grow into? I have no intention of finding out. My son, like most kids in the rural west, is surrounded by “Government Property”, known locally as the BLM, the Forest Service and the State Sections. Management of these public lands is a perpetual controversy, the discussions of which often center on economic value. Aldous Huxley was right when he  wrote of an economics driven dystopia in A Brave New World that, “A love of nature keeps no factories busy.” But it’s equally true that no factory ever built the foundation of a life. And given time to mature, the investment of a bike ride, a sunburn and few fresh scratches can yield one hell of a return.

Pity those who put such meager value of the places that Copeland writes of. Pity them and turn their asses out of elected office.

When it comes to public lands, access is the key. In We Need Our Public Lands Now More Than Ever,  Hal Herring writes of the somewhat two-faced approach some in Congress take when it comes to providing access to our public lands.

While political leaders in Western states may address hunters and fishermen with loud brays of support for the Making Public Lands Public Act (who could hate such an aptly named bill?) the first real question burns: do they support the reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF? Some Congressmen these days seem to delight in declaring their wholesale, never, never, never, opposition to any new purchases of public land (they call it “adding to the federal estate”). Such an ideological stance would make a eunuch out of the Making Public Lands Public Act — there would be cases where we lose access to tens of thousands of great public hunting because some politician has an ideological disdain of using our own money to buy a few acres. In the real world of second jobs and paying for houses and kid’s boots and college bills, we don’t use one-size-fits-all ideology to make our decisions. We should not allow our elected leaders to do it, either, even way up there in the rarefied air of politics.

As a veteran lobbyist of 30 years I know better than most how the game is played. The chances of the sportsmen’s groups and the outdoor recreation community ponying up the kind of money needed to compete with industry and the large political agenda machines are slim to none and slim just boarded the train home.

There is one element of the game where we do have a chance, it is the court of public opinion. Sure it is hard work; it means writing letters to the editors, doing blog posts, commenting on BS stories and calling out elected officials when they vote against our best interest. We need to make our voices heard over and over again.

Here is an idea, how about a score card on Congress? Bob Marshall offers a very compelling case for it in his Field and Stream post Sportsmen’s Groups Should Publish a Congressional Report Card.

Yet once those disappointing votes are cast, the folks working on our behalf at sportsmen’s conservation groups have to swallow their pride and continue to treat the offending pols as if they’re sportsmen’s best friends. They turn the other cheek again and again because they know just how much more damage that pol can do if he or she gets really angry.

These votes against sportsmen’s interests have been more numerous and egregious in the last four to six years than ever before. Because they have brought funding for conservation almost to a standstill, the damage is piling up.

Veteran sportsmen’s lobbyists know irreparable harm is being done and are desperate to get sportsmen off their shell buckets and vocally into the fight.

Count me as one of those desperate veterans. The organized groups have been and continue to fight the good fight but they need more support from the rank and file outdoorsmen and women who care deeply about our great outdoors.

Marshall’s idea has merit if for no other reason than to stop fooling ourselves into thinking our elected officials give a damn about what we do. Marshall hits the nail squarely when he says “When the offending congressmen and women know they won’t be held accountable for their votes, where’s the deterrent?”

Tanner’s right too, it’s on us, it’s always been on us.

Have you had enough yet? Are you ready to start keeping score?

Speak your mind while you still have time.


  1. Mike Sepelak says:

    It’s time. It past time. It’s LONG past time. Speak up.

  2. Tom, you speak to the heart of our great American challenge: living in a Republic demands citizenship from the people. Failure of citizenship delivers us to tyrants, abstract tyrants like resource destruction and species extinction, and real tyrants who co-opt democratic processes for personal power and gain. I will share my own effort to engage this topic —

    CITIZENSHIP IN A REPUBLIC – The arena, crucible of Democracy


  3. Ron,
    That is great writing there! Thanks for sharing it. You make a great case for action!


  1. […] Sadler writing over at Middle River Dispatches put up a must read post yesterday – The Coin of the Realm is Action. TS opens with a favorite quote […]

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