Thursday, April 19, 2018

How Does Conservation Lose?

A recent article by Todd Wilkinson in his Mountain Journal posits that "Conservation has lost its edge."  It's a compelling article woven around the ethos of longtime advocate Stewart Brandborg.  Wilkinson, like many western advocates for conservation, perceives a weakness in conservation, a willingness to have a small seat at a very big table.  To accept table scraps as their reward, served hours after the utility companies, extractive industries, and anti-conservation interests have carved up the white meat, the dark meat, and thrown the best bones to their most steadfast hounds.  Wilkinson's overall point, shared by many western advocates, is that conservation is failing because of dilution through moderation, tent-opening, and consensus building.  While that doesn't sound untrue, is it a primary cause of the conservation movement's failure to advance?   Wilkinson notes that Brandborg ran the Wilderness Society for 12 years, through the period when the Wilderness Act was enacted, but that now, 54 years later, we have lost our way.  Okay.   A lot of things have happened in 54 years.

It is tempting to look at a single-issue advocacy group like the NRA or Planned Parenthood and say, "See - they never accept compromise.  That's why they win, and it's why conservation loses."   But if you're looking for cures (and not just complaining), that answer is a placebo.   Conservationists fight, and mostly lose, all the time.  That's worth noting.

I'm reminded of a "dark green" environmental organization who had the chance to draft a pollution bill for the state government where Democrats hold the majority of the legislature and the Governor's office.  They toiled away on this draft bill for an insufferable 3 years, then once it was sponsored in the legislature, feared that their proposed language did not punish polluters harshly enough, and had the sponsor withdraw the bill.   A successful bill was drawn up by the polluting industry in the following legislative session, with far fewer controls, and was signed into law.  That is a conservation failure. 

I'm reminded of another "true believer" environmentalist who filed a foolhardy lawsuit against one of the nation's largest meat producers.   The case was weak, and the judge begged the environmentalists to enjoin in mediation.   Never! They said.  We're going to shut down this entire corporation! The environmentalists were trounced by the ag lawyers and were publicly scolded by the judge, and then forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the ag lawyers' legal fees for the trial. That is a conservation failure. 

I'm reminded of another "true believer" dark green environmentalist organization who wanted so badly to kill a land development that they wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post accusing the land developer of all kinds of misdeeds.   The developer successfully sued the environmentalist for libel, requiring a payout higher than the Executive Director's annual salary.   It was celebrated by the environmentalists as a victory (the development was built, fully, with no input from the environmental community on reducing impacts).   That is a conservation failure. 

These examples serve to remind us that in our red-blooded desire for purity, we can make monumental errors that can set legal precedents, alienate our supporters, and annoy lawmakers through sheer ineptitude.   We can lose sight of really important things.   Todd Wilkinson and many conservation and environmental advocates would have us all demand purity - that purity of focus and outcome is necessary and not optional.    My retort would simply be that ideological purity is necessary in at least some landscapes and is mandatory to oppose at least some conflicting land uses, but where it is required, it is not sufficient by itself to achieve what we want to achieve in conservation.

When the case law is against your organization's stance, it is not sufficient to have mission purity.   When legal property rights, and a property owner, are against your organization's stance, "never compromising" will not get you where you want to go.  When you don't have the basic facts correct, "purity" will not cover up your imminent self-embarrassment.   Conservationists many times assume we are righteous and that the facts, science, and the rule of law will back us up.  That's a really poor assumption.

So, to Wilkinson's edict that conservation is failing due to over-collaboration and a lack of courage, he's right on a slim majority of counts.  But it is important to also count the many, many quixotically idealistic adventures of conservationists and environmentalists over the last 50 years - those among us quite content to be the Noble Losers.  Their purity is very tempting to replicate, for their hearts are strong and true.  But many of them do not know how to make conservation succeed.   And in fact, this is how conservation fails.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You Don't Need a Fishing Guide. But Maybe Your Kid Does.

This awesome father/son moment (snook
on the line in Southern Florida, New Years
Day 2018) brought to you by a full price
licensed guide.  Well worth the money.
A brief search through the 10 years (yeeeeeears) of posts on this site will show any reader the total range of interaction I've had with hunting and fishing guides over the course of my 44 years.  The summary is that they love telling stories and don't let their duty to put clients "in the vicinity of" fish and game to distract from that story telling.  And that's without the Standard Guide poverty talk, leaning on his $50,000 custom truck, talking about how The Life is So Hard (while we drove to meet said guide in a 15 year old Tacoma with 3 different color panels on it).   Groan.  But you know what, there have also been spectacular human beings who have showed me spectacular experiences in the outdoors, empty coolers or not, and some of those human beings have been professional guides. 

Given that statement above - does it amount to a disclaimer? -  I suppose being a father in the outdoors has changed me in ways that are so intense and so strange that they have largely calmed my urge to write over the last two years.    Don't bother telling me you don't understand that sentence, because neither do I.    I have an intense and sometimes desperate longing within me to make those special outdoors memories that adult family members and kids, and right as my son is really feeling the dirt between his toes and the blood of the outdoors in his teeth, my slow-growing nonprofit career has finally erupted.  And thus we have a challenge.   Being the sole adult in charge of planning and leading a multi-mile hike that ends (halfway) with a rock climb with no permanent anchors is exhausting and wonderful.   

Good fishing trips are no different, and require a heavy amount of planning.  This is partly due to living in an urban area.   The kid can't walk down the street and catch a trout, or shoot a pheasant, or scale high quality granite.   But it's also partly due to Life.  You know, that part of life (in USFWS data) that shows that fewer than a quarter of Baby Boomer hunters taught their Gen X kids to hunt (and fewer than a third of those kids kept up in the sport as adults).   The part of Life where The Job takes you to Boston, and the hunt club you just joined has 80 members on 300 acres. Or for half of parents, the part of Life where you no longer get your kid's physical presence on half of weekends (or even less frequent).   "We need to recruit more hunters!"  Well, yeah.   With wages stagnant since July, 2000 (and cost of living very much not stagnant), most parents are just trying to survive.  

My Little Man with a nice redfish and
one of my favorite guides in Florida,
Capt. Justin with Native Salt
Something I landed on a few years ago was to get my kid engaged in the guided trips I take a few times per year.  Now, I've been on hunts where suddenly the "last invited guy" wants to suddenly "bring his 18 month old kid" on the hunt.  In 20 degree temps.   I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about fishing (not hunting...yet) in a target rich environment where stress is minimized, and the normal parent-child tensions are eased (think about every time you've taught a kid a new skill, and the amount of crying and fighting involved).  

Now for all of you tough dads and moms huffing, "I'm the best teacher there is," I encourage you to search the web for things like "should I coach my own child," and of course, the answer is generally "no" if you want your child's skill to truly develop.    Reasons not to be the Boss of the Boat include:

1) You are less talented than you think;

2) You are probably too hard on your own kid when it comes to fishing/hunting; 

3) Recruitment requires fun, and if your kid's not having fun because Dad is breathing down their neck about trash in the boat (or whatever), it's less likely you're really building a person who loves the sport. 

So as you move into the spring (summer's coming too), and you just can't discern how you'll get your kid out to that honey hole for fishing or that hot spot for spring gobblers (first you've got to repair the tent, then, do we have a soccer conflict, etc etc etc), and you know all too well that the moment might pass without you getting your little guy or gal outdoors to make any new memories at all, I'm just suggesting for this moment, maybe this is the season you hire a guide, so you can sit back, watch your kid learn, and not have to worry about every single detail of the trip like you normally do.    It's not something I can afford to do on a regular basis but I'll tell you, it's increased the number of positive, even epic, outdoor memories for our family.