It's been a tough several months for hard-line conservationists. The EPA's much-embattled Waters of the US Rule continues to list to port, northeastern states created a variety of destructive harvest measures for the striped bass population two months ago, and most recently, the US Senate voted to spend federal taxpayer monies to sell off protected federal lands. Here in Maryland, anti-hunting equestrian lobbyists floated a bill to allow farmers to kill and sell (for profit) wild deer meat 365 days per year. And a bill in Virginia to prohibit trespassing with hounds failed....mightily. My opinion on these and other proposals are nuanced, and I've made a point to express them on this blog, in other publications where I write, by testifying in person, by emailing my elected officials, and by submitting written comments on these legislative proposals. I dedicate the time I can to making my voice heard. Sometimes it seems to have an impact. Sometimes not.
In doing so, my voice has been among the many, most recently several buddies writing in Hatch Magazine, to advocate - really, to beg - for America's 49 million anglers to get involved with policy that affect the future of our resource. Across this blog's nearly 800 posts, you'll find that it's an ongoing plea. I plea - we plea - that you care. Unlike some of my friends, I'm not concerned with where you fall on these various legislative proposals - for example, most of them are steadfast believers that the EPA's "New Rule" will forever protect streams and wetlands - despite the fact that the EPA approves between 98-99% of proposals to drain and fill in federally-protected streams and wetlands. So you can guess where I stand on that proposal. I read it and I had concerns.
But don't mistake my feelings on the topic in general - I'm ecstatic that they are engaged directly against me. I'm ecstatic that other anglers read the proposal rule and created their own opinions. Most importantly, I'm ecstatic that they wrote the EPA, their legislators, and other non-profits who are engaged (unlike one of my favorite non-profits, Ducks Unlimited, who refused to pick a side on the New Rule, and even refused to answer my emails requesting their comment on the New Rule). The EPA's New Rule went out for public comment in 2014. Over one million comments were received - it's estimated that 60-80% (many - but not all - are email form-generated) are against the proposal.
Why does America have 49 million anglers, and only - perhaps - 1% of us bothered to make a comment on a critical federal policy attempting to tackle "how do we federally protect clean water?" Again, I'm less concerned about whether you oppose or support it. I'm concerned that you're simply not there.
Adopting the mantle of "conservation radical" in the face of paid anti-conservation writers, as the Hatch writers did last week, is absolutely fine. Wanting to wage verbal battles on social media is absolutely fine. But given recent admissions that our last Secretary of State never opened a government email account, and in response, that at least one current US Senator has never sent a single email, let's not think that we are advancing awareness or political change via social media. Again, the vast majority of comments on the EPA New Rule oppose the rule, and were received via email. The EPA is likely to pass the final rule this spring anyway. Before you cheer, read that again. Your email comments don't matter much. I'm going to ask a big favor of you. I want you to be there.
Visiting your elected officials in Washington DC is powerful, but expensive. Visiting them in their hometown office is easy. Attending your county councilman/councilwoman's annual fundraiser is easy. Visiting your state delegates in their district office is easy. Getting to know the people who speak for you in government is easy and it is imperative. I don't want you to click on the automatically generated email that says, "Yes, I support this measure." I want you to put on your boots or a nice suit, and I want you to show up.
It's in no way imperative that we all agree. But it's critical that sportsmen and outdoorsfolk speak and are heard. It's critical that our voice is heard and not ignored. The rallying cry from Hatch Magazine is noted, and it's important first step. But it's only the beginning.
I hope to see you all in the trenches. I hope to see you all on TV, in front of lawmakers. And I'll raise a toast to your dedication, even if you and I disagree on the issue of the day.
Get out there, soldier.