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

Conservation politics is good business

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post offering to compile and coordinate fly-fishing business voices and perhaps bring a little organization to a network of engaged business folks. It was prompted by a call to action on Moldy Chum.

The purpose was to gauge interest within the fly-fishing business community to speak up for conservation. I know the connection is strong and I was hoping to help direct that interest in such a way that the collective voices could help the cause of conservation. My follow up conversation with folks in the fly-fishing business has been both positive and supportive, the industry really does understand habitat = opportunity = economic activity.

I am still looking to recruit more businesses, so lend a hand, the more the merrier, (you can leave a comment or shoot me a note and I will follow up with you).

There were also some thoughtful comments on both the blog and Facebook that deserve a response.

Conservation politics

The question of whether the conservation discussion should be a political one got some attention.

To me it depends on what “political” means.

Experience has taught me that extremes on both sides of the conservation and environmental debate are easily marginalized and in both cases can prevent progress on important policy from taking place. Labels and litmus tests rarely work.

To my way of thinking “political” means using your standing in the community – whichever community you belong to – to influence the discussion and more importantly the outcome on these critical policy issues. Going political without making progress doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and may even be counter-productive.

In the case of the fly-fishing business community their economic standing has significant influence. What needs to happen is for them to exercise that influence.

Outdoor recreation dependent businesses like fly-fishing need to carry the fight themselves and not rely on others to do it for them. Making a financial contribution to conservation groups is important but adding your voice to the conversation is critically important as well.

It is in our economic self-interest to do so. To quote Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard “We are a part of nature and as we destroy nature we destroy our selves. It is a selfish thing to want to protect nature.”

The same holds true for our nature dependent businesses. Support for conservation is a good business model but to pound the point home, YOU need to be directly involved in letting policy makers know it is important to your business!

Conservation advocacy as a marketing advantage.

I bet you can think of examples of when a business speaks up as an advocate for clean water, healthy habitat and responsible use of our natural resources they enhanced their brand reputation. Why not do the same thing?

Think about it. If the reaction to AFFTA’s award provoked such an outcry then it seems to me our customers see conservation as a pretty important element of the sport.

Letters to the editor, radio interviews or blog posts about a conservation topic can be become free advertising. They help define your business as part of the community that cares about the future and is a good steward of land and water.

What are you doing to show you conservation street cred?

Need some suggestions on how to shine a light on what you are doing on the conservation front? Drop in a comment or shoot me a note. I will be happy to offer some more ideas.

The take away

Whether it is politics, altruism or economic self interest the fact of the matter is the if we don’t make our voices heard either directly to our elected officials or in the court of public opinion then we only have ourselves to blame. The opportunity to engage in the discussion is easier than anytime in history and I will be delighted to help in any way I can, just let me know.


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  1. Great topic Tom. Yes, it’s time to address these issues. Inf fact – WAY – overdue.

    I heartily acknowledge agreement with most of your assessment. I also agree with the majority of your definition of ‘political’. I do offer one adjustment – a conditional refinement to the definition – however, mentioned in the following:

    “… “political” means using your standing in the community – whichever community you belong to – to influence the discussion and the more importantly the outcome on these important policy issues. ”

    To walk confident and secure among both supporters and detractors, with the only commodity traded and desired within those camps: fully invested, displayed and executed honesty and integrity: commodities necessary for any form of implementation – or even wider acceptance; the ‘influence’, of which you speak, MUST BE:
    1) fully supported, by valid, scientific proof,
    2) free of agenda-speak, community mystique, special interests and ignorance,
    3) free-to-cut in any direction of the presenters position -when needed,
    4) free of bias, funding, greed, and the subterfuge driven by personal (or group) agenda(s),
    5) grounded in the ideal and reality of, benefiting the resource… first-and-foremost

    Anything else is worthless market-flagging for self interest(s). Doomed for failure in serving the resource, or rising above the destructive bureaucratic mirages of the present.

    Set sail upon these difficult, but rarely traveled waters, and you will have my support and sweat; and the desired same from the majority of the community you wish to tap.

    Veer from this course and you will find yourself – and your project – struggling to survive the inevitable calamity of the Lost Integrity Triangle. This bone yard of eroded ethics is already crowded.

    I’m more than willing. Heck, I’m an IV-dripping, donating member in the Blood-pool of Resource Activism. So, if you find yourself so inclined, go ahead, rattle-the-chains.


  2. Tom Sadler says:

    Thanks Les for your thoughts and support. Your points are well made and underpin the path to progress. Historically the fight for conservation is an uphill slog and this will be no different. Hopefully the influence brought to bear can meet your 5 point test. Not sure it will always meet it perfectly or to the letter, but the fundamental principals can and will be met. I share your expectation of the result if those principals are not met. I know the bone yard of which you speak to well having worked in Washington DC the better part of 30 years. I have no desire to add this effort to the pile.

  3. Jason McGarvey says:

    Nice post. Increasingly I find for-profit businesses to be our best allies in conservation.

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