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

Conservation equals recreational opportunity and that equals economic activity

Last month three important events for fisherman took place in Washington.

The first was the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, second was the 2010 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and third was the Jim Range National Casting Call sponsored by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

Nancy Sutley, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior, Tom Vilsack, secretary of Agriculture and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency hosted the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors at the Department of Interior.

The conference was held so the invited participants, who came from a very diverse group of public and private landowners and users could discuss the challenges facing land conservation in America. They were also given the chance to offer their thoughts on the most critical conservation challenges and offer suggestions for addressing those challenges.

The conference served as the launch for the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The administration plans to hold a series of large and small listening sessions around the country.

The highlight of the conference was the speech by President Obama. The president made the point that I have repeatedly made in this column, conservation creates recreational opportunity and recreational opportunity drives economic activity.

“We’re launching this strategy because it’s the right thing to do — because, as TR [Theodore Roosevelt] said, we must not mar the work of the ages. But we’re also doing it because it’s the right thing to do for our economy. It’s how we’re going to spur job creation in the tourism industry and the recreation industry. It’s how we’ll create jobs preserving and maintaining our forests, our rivers, our great outdoors”, Obama said.

From there I went to the two-day 2010 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The summit fulfilled another of a series of commitments made by NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco to the saltwater angling community back in July of this year.

More than 100 recreational anglers spent two days in facilitated discussions looking for possible courses of action to solve the myriad of vexing challenges facing the saltwater recreational fishing community.

“Whether for life’s pleasure or life’s work, we can all agree on one thing, recreational fishing is good for the Nation’s soul and good for the Nation’s economy,” said Lubchenco. “The excellent turnout at this summit tells me that you want to be heard. And I am here to tell you that NOAA is not only listening, but we are also ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work with you.”

Having worked directly with the folks at NOAA, I take Dr. Lubchenco’s words at face value. She has kept her commitments and I expect she and her team will continue to.

One event that actually involved fishing for shad on the Potomac River was the Jim Range National Casting Call. The event, hosted by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

The event highlights the success of collaborative fish habitat conservation and showcases the growing number of successes coming from the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. The NFHAP works through public-private partnerships like the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, to protect, restore and enhance fish habitat and fisheries around the country.

A timely reminder how important our land and water is was brought home by the British Petroleum oil spill fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico. We put our outdoor economy at risk all too often and without sufficient thought of the consequences. We need to do better.

As a general rule, I would much rather be in the Valley fishing our mountain streams then going to Washington. Fortunately these three events were worth the trip. The message that conservation equals recreational opportunity and that equals economic activity has taken hold. It’s about time.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

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