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

Conservation and the fly-fishing business

A call to action

A recent post on Moldy Chum challenged fly-fishing businesses to step up their game when it comes to conservation:

I would challenge our industry to use its resources to be even stronger advocates for the environment. If we lend the weight of our industry to the environmental causes that are crucial to the health of our planet, it will also be good for the bottom line.”

That notion was echoed by Sam Snyder on his Headwaters blog:

The future of our fisheries depend upon diverse communities, diverse fisheries, and diverse thinking. If you cherish your habit, religion, sport, or whatever you want to call it, I am inclined to say that you have no business in this sport if you don’t take conservation seriously.”

Conservation creates recreational opportunity that translates into economic activity. It’s really that simple.

If you work in the fly-fishing industry you get it. You see it every day, whether you are on the water or in the shop or in the factory. Your bottom line depends on the health of the watersheds your customers visit with your products in hand.

Unfortunately, not everyone understands this vital equation. But those in the media who do are laying the importance of protecting the environment at the feet of sportsmen and women who MUST come around, especially if they hope to pass their sporting heritage down to coming generations (your future customers, mind you).

For instance:

  • Bob Marshal warned us, This will be the year that will test the commitment of the outdoors community.
  • Hal Herring took up the battle cry when he wrote, Are There Any Politicians Who Really Understand Sportsmen’s Concerns?
  • Kirk Deeter added his voice in, Should Conservation Be a Political Issue? and then sounded the alarm loud and strong by writing, Proposed Conservation Funding Cuts Could Devastate Fly Fishing Resources.
  • Will you lend a hand or sit back and wait for others to take action?

    As someone who has spent 20 years incorporating my love for fly-fishing into my conservation advocacy work, I strongly believe our industry can make a difference in the conservation challenges facing our country and our businesses. If that is going to happen, then those of us in the fly-fishing business are going to have to get involved.

    Sure, everybody says “we” need to do something. Problem is, all too often that “we” really means “they.”  So I am putting me in for the we this time.

    In order to help organize that collective weight of our industry, I am compiling and coordinating a group of men and women in the fly-fishing business who will give voice and personality to local, regional and national conservation challenges.

    You understand first-hand the economic benefit that outdoor recreation provides to small businesses, many of them in rural areas where economic benefits are hard to find or come at a high price to the lands and waters.

    If you are in the fly-fishing business I want you to be part of that group and one of those voices.

    What can you do?

    It is really pretty simple, and won’t take a lot of your time.

    There are a number of conservation challenges coming our way. It is my business to keep track of them and work with conservation groups to create advocacy messages to respond to them.

    When an opportunity arises to author an op-ed or letter to the editor, sign on to an advertisement, speak with a reporter or blogger, or take other action, I will contact you so that your voice can be included in the conservation discussions. It will be my job to create the message—your time commitment will be minimal.

    Each opportunity will always be permission-based and voluntary. You will always have the opportunity to decide if you want to participate.

    As someone in the business, you offer a unique perspective on conservation challenges and I hope you will be willing to help.

    This is a collaborative process; your questions, thoughts and suggestions are most welcome!

    If you are interested leave a comment and I will follow up with you.


    1. James Piotrowski says:

      Tom, too many conservationists actually seem to be like Kirk Deeter, and “hate it” when a conservation discussion becomes a political one. Successful conservation has always required successful politics. In the current conservation fight we lack the allies we need because we have not been willing to take up their fights. We lack the organization we need because some in industry and business have assumed they share interests with others in business and industry when they don’t (every dollar sent to the Chabmer of Commerce is a dollar AGAINST conservation).

      2011 has made clear to me that the strategy of accomodating conservative political ideologies in the hope of making short term conservation gains is flawed and doomed to failure. Let’s be entirely sjtraight about who it is that is screwing our rivers, mountains, aquifers, coastlines and oceans: Republicans. This year may be conservation’s toughest in a long time, but the same is true for labor, educators, poverty advocates. But we haven’t teamed up with those groups despite our common enemies. Shame on us.

    2. James Piotrowski says:

      The above sounds a little harsher than I intended. Since at least the 1870s conservation in North America has largely been a political process, but conservationists too often try to pretend otherwise. I guess I’m saying I’ve seen this at work in our own organizations, we need to change it.

    3. Wow… two my great friends on the same post…

      James, I appreciate what you have to say, but I don’t fully agree (I know … you’re shocked). Certainly politics matter in conservation, but I would argue that conservation, here in the West, anyway, is something that ought to be more cultural that political. And, having moved in these circles for a long time, I have seen die-hard political conservatives dive head-on into conservation issues when it becomes clear that doing the right thing by the environment is good for business or good for opportunity (or both). Hell… I’ve even seen political conservatives engage because “it’s the right thing to do.”

      I wholeheartedly support Tom’s efforts to bring the industry into the fight–by showing that protecting habitat can protect the bottom line of a fly rod manufacturer or a reel maker, I think we can give credence to the “highest and best use” argument put forth by the “economists” who continue to maintain that the best us of American public land is a mass subdivision sale for the benefit of industry or the trophy home owner.

      And, to be honest, we need to start incorporating some of the heavier-impact uses of public lands (ORV manufacturers, for instance), because the same equation applies to them (habitat=opportunity=economic activity). Granted, these things have a much greater physical impact on the landscape, but working with these companies to ensure the protection of public lands ensures a future for them, just as it does for an arms manufacturer or the company who makes breathable waders, drift boats or polarized sunglasses.

      I guess I’m not sold on the need to be so overtly political so much as I am on the need to convince those working in industries that depend on their customers having access to wide open spaces engaging in a way that those in politics can’t ignore.

      My 2 cents… feel free to rebut, my friend…


    4. James is absolutely right, it is about the politics, the record speaks for itself. Chris, I don’t buy the cultural vs political argument. The likes of Haliburton and their armies of lobbyists are not playing this culturally and neither should we. The interests of those in the West are no different, just ask a landowner in Pinedale how they’re liking those 1000 drilling pads on their back forty. We should be lending our voice to what is right for our business and the planet and not apologizing for the politics.

    5. James Piotrowski says:

      Chris, when you talk about “highest, best use” you’re allowing the other side (the wrong side) to define the terms of the debate. We should protect what’s left of wild land because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t mind using an economic argument, as long as we’re also up front about our real reasons for conservation. If we rely solely on the economic argument we stand the very real risk that when the cost-benefit ratio changes our position will fail. Put gasoline at $8/gallon and then try to make an economic argument that we shouldn’t engage in deep water drilling, or triple the price of electricity and make an economic argument we shouldn’t be burning coal.

      Over the last 150 years the political party most interested in conservation has changed a few times. But whoever that is should be getting our political support. More importantly, we need to make conservation a deeply held philosophical tenet of both major parties.

      In the meantime, when somebody talks about drilling Yellowstone, selling off public lands, eliminating ESA protections, or lifting Clean Water Act restrictions, conservationists need to utterly trounce them. Maybe Idaho has made me paranoid, but I genuinely believe that everhything I care deeply about can be taken away by self-serving politicians, including clear, cold streams, and mountain vistas, and that it will be taken away if we’re not ready to fight for it.

      All that said, I recognize that political conservatives can also be conservationists, and that political progressives may not care a bit about wild places and the critters (human and otherwise) that rely on them.

      Back to Tom’s original point. I spend my money, as often as possible, with businesses that share my values. This includes conservationists.

    6. Maybe I was a bit unclear. I’m in no way suggesting we apologize for our politics… far from it. But let’s face it … the far left in the environmental debate has little or no credibility, politically or otherwise. Of course, that doesn’t make them wrong, it just makes them one extreme in a debate defined by extremes.

      Truth be told, what moves politics is real people, like the one’s Tom is reaching out to. A prime example: I was lobbying in D.C. on behalf of a bill to require a planned strategy for renewable energy development on public lands in the coming years. We entered Sen. Risch’s office in DC… the senator comes in, and the first thing he asks, is, “Where are you on ANWR?”

      We were discussing an issue entirely disconnected from ANWR, but Risch had been so conditioned to believe that anyone seeking his ear on energy issues was coming from a point on the political spectrum that he couldn’t even identify with, that he felt he need to gain some perspective before he even started the conversation.

      That’s where our politics have gotten us. And others in Congress are just as polarized at the opposite end of the spectrum. If we can’t find “real” people to have candid conversations with politicians, then we’re just shouting into a vacuum.

      That’s why I believe reminding people in politics, particularly politicians from the West, that our heritage and out culture matter. The real challenge, though, isn’t reminding the politicians… it’s reminding the voters that conservation issues matter to them, even if they’re not card-carrying Sierra Clubbers. In fact, I would argue that hunters and anglers have perhaps the most intimate connection to “place” than any outdoor user group, and that they benefit most from sound conservation practices. Thing is, you have get those people to look past their politics (and the politics of the shrill) to see what really matter.

      I maintain that that’s where “heritage” comes in.

      Hope that helps.


    7. Garrett Belcher says:

      Hello there, Tom. Im not trying to add anything to the previous responses, rather, offer my assistance in any way that I can. I am in the business and I speak with conservation minded fly fisherman everyday; in fact, I speak with whole lot of them. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Best of luck with everything and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.


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