Why my conservation dollar is no longer available, and why conservation must change with the rest of the industry

I have a tendency for melancholy when my beloved creek’s bones are exposed.


Dewatering is now a yearly ritual and simply means the upper stretches of the creek won’t be worth fishing for at least another three years. While more fish will move down from the dam this Winter, it will take many more years to make them of catchable size.

What surprised me was how this year’s killing made me rethink the sport, its past emphasis on conservation and the environment, and how the tired old conservation rallying cry is no longer of any consequence to me.

Since 2008, both the US and world economy has dominated the headlines. Federal, state, and local municipalities have little money for conservation or wildlife stewardship and their focus has been avoiding fiscal insolvency. They’ve backed any project deemed “shovel ready” to stimulate jobs, keep tax revenues stable, and ensure some small fraction of us retain our homes and keep making those all important house payments.

At the same time, “fracking” has brought about a renaissance in our indigenous oil and gas industries, and the last couple of administrations have been quite happy to open new federal lands and accommodate new leases to ensure the boom absorbs as many out-of-work citizens as is possible.

State governments are concerned about solvency first, stimulating those areas hardest hit by the Recession of 2008 and falling home prices, and ensuring they make a business-friendly environment for whichever flavor of entrepreneur makes eye contact.

That means less money for all state programs, not simply our beloved parks, game, and wildlife oversight agencies.

As the days of the hundred dollar fly rod are long gone, as is the fifty dollar chicken neck, and anglers are being steered into a brand-conscious urbane fishing experience where tackle is the new professionalism, how come conservation still comes in its sorry old wrapper?

Sure, there’s a few mean old guys like myself that think fly rod technology has become Microsoft Office, a bunch of stuff added that no one asked for and so esoteric as to not even be announced on the box. But change has always been good, and if I’m to embrace this new fishing mantra, why am I still enduring the same tired “Salmonid Uber Alles” on the conservation front?

Give us your money so we can spend it on the headwaters of some creek, shoring up its banks and ensuring the fragile little salmonid we hold above all else, is able to thrive for six months more …”

Salmonids are yesterday’s news, and creeks cannot be restored with grant funds as they’re available once and watershed restoration is a yearly cost, as the need is forever. In the face of climate change, why are we perpetuating salmonids, which are fragile like European aristocracy, inbred hemophiliacs and incestuous to the point of instability?

What conservation needs is a cockroach, something hearty with thick scales that can handle being squeezed, gut-hooked, run over, and peed on, as that’s what the new ecology warrants.

I only fish for salmonids occasionally, yet I ‘m supposed to care more for someone else’s creek than I do for mine, knowing that my money won’t sustain life, it will only postpone the inevitable.

In my state the environment is a foregone conclusion. Huge tunnels drilled through the Delta will divert all the remaining Northern water South and the real issue is whether we can pass the bond measure, not whether it’s a good idea or no. More billions for high speed rail relegates eminent domain or environmental press to the rear of the metro section as the Governor backs it, the legislature wants it, and the Resources Secretary remains silent.

“Fight the battle you can win”, and this is not about the environment as it is lowering the unemployment rate. Smiling workers growing crops, and ensures agribusiness has everything it desires to grow ever bigger and employ more. High speed rail permits those workers to live ever further from where they toil, allowing Southern California cities to sprawl unchecked, to annex large portions of Mexico or even Arizona …

Our governmental agencies are rooted in the propagation of dead fish over the living, which is why so much of their dwindling finances are spent raising so many. It knows the majority of its citizens ignore their doctor’s advice and don’t eat fish, but like all outdoorsmen, are thrilled to kill them at every opportunity.

Our angling conservation organizations serve up the same tired sales pitch that starts with an appeal to our sensibilities, how we’re duty-bound to steward the environment for our kids, yet our kids show no sign of stirring themselves from the embrace of their X-box, and both anglers and hunters dwindle further. “Conservationists” are seen in the major media venues as a radical cadre of eggheads and Vegans determined to impede the majority in their right to terraform the environment to their liking … and conservationists … conservationists are but a single threat level away from a drone strike.

As I regard all the vast expanse of sun-blasted rock that was my creek I realize my generation and those before me had our chance …

The Sixties were all about Mother Earth and Birkenstocks, whole grains, whole foods, and living in an uneasy peace with the planet. All those macrobiotic peace-loving citizens grew up and decided that while bean sprouts were cool, cheese burgers were better, and now cries for “Saving the Whale” means an exposed arse cheek and an insulin shot, as Earth shoes faded in favor of Cheetos, and Mother Earth was reduced to the Couch.

Swooping in for the kill is Madison Avenue, who picked up on the last half dozen presidential elections and elevated “what scares us” to the new Sex. Fear selling even better than a shapely ankle, and anything outside of our control like sleeping on the ground, bears, bees, or bats, should make way for gleaming hotels and more cell towers.

… after all, animals have had the run of the woods for tens of millions of years and all they do is crap in it.

In short, after many years of living that dream – of portaging out discarded leader bags and cast-off indicator foam, of spooling loose monofilament and tucking it into a vest pocket, of policing empty beer bottles and broken Styrofoam from dropped coolers, it has become time to turn this over to the next guys … to do with as they will.

As I’ve not fished for a salmonid in some time, I’ll ask of those conservation organizations what I’ve asked of my cable vendor, my Internet provider, and all other luxury items I purchase … how it’s time to tighten my belt, and “trout” is no longer enough of a message for me to continue my existing service.

As no one is interested in my stressed little brown rivulet, I’m no longer interested in footing the bill for the last two miles of some creek I’ll never fish.

… furthermore, the fact that you stabilized its banks and planted willows does not mean you can contact me next year for more money.

Global warming is likely going to treat your thin skinned, disease prone, clean-water-requiring salmonid and stress its watersheds and eradicate it from much of its historical and introduced turf. Just as its doing with all forms of amphibians. Global warming is change and while currently seen as bad, may just be the way of things when you consider the last 35 million years.

Remember it’s not the climate change that you need to fear, it’s the competing predator that climate change brings with it that will ensure no trace remains. That unloved cockroach fish that eats human waste, reproduces asexually, and doesn’t need the banks stabilized or willows planted to lower water temperatures, it only need pets and small children frolicking in the lukewarm brown water to feed …

It might be the Smallmouth Bass or the Asian Carp, but something will surely skull-fuck your fragile little salmonid and claim the prime feeding lie. If that’s not enough, then your remaining little enclaves of salmonids will be dispatched by well meaning humans, who delight in stomping life out of ecosystems as a byproduct of “stewardship” and unclean felt soles.

The future fly fisherman is not likely to be a poster child for a chilled Chardonnay, rather he’ll be chugging a tepid energy drink over something dirty and lukewarm…

… yet friendly. There’ll be no stiff necks and stiffer lips when a dead cat drifts through the riffle. It’ll be the Brotherhood of Suffering and Antibiotics, instead of ascots and clean linen.

.. and it’s about damn time.

For those conservation organizations that survive, your mission will evolve accordingly. Your issues no longer resonate with me or the environment. The headwaters of some salmon creek that hosts 30,000 fish held in higher regard than a hundred ignored creeks that once held  100,000 fish each, is “grant money” math that doesn’t add up.

When your mission statement and your desired outcome embraces more than salmon and trout, feel free to send me another request to reestablish my membership, as I can always use another swell hat.

21 thoughts on “Why my conservation dollar is no longer available, and why conservation must change with the rest of the industry”

  1. I gave up on organized conservationist when I never heard a peep from them about illegal immigration. They have no problem with 15 million (plus) illegal immigrants and what they consume. I also wonder when Southern California will take all of N. Cal’s water.

  2. Let me see if I get your point; you do not like what certain “Conservation” groups are doing, so your answer is to do even less?

    I agree with what you are trying to say about wanting to fix a place that has meaing to you, but what are YOU doing about that besides writing the above article?

    The conservation group may not be helping your stream, but at least they are doig something.

    What are YOU doing?

  3. one of my favorite ponds (we call them lakes here in flyoverland) is five feet low partly due to drought but mostly due to pumping groundwater to green up lawns in a suburban sprawl that shouldn’t be there.

    the state can’t/won’t do anything about it. the nrd can’t/won’t do anything about.

    the sad truth is that the people who donate to most conservation groups want lawns.

    this week i’ve taken snapping turtles to 20 pounds, carp to ten and a thirty inch gar. oh..two really nice crappie.

    reeks of post-apocalyptic angling to me.

  4. Confused: Conservation is more than helping trout. In light of the poor economy, and my dwindling conservation dollars, I’ll no longer support any organization whose focus is merely trout or salmon.

    … and as a former CALTROUT streamkeeper, I’ve done whatever was asked of me and more.

  5. KBarton10, I fully agree. And, I am all for folks channeling their $$ and efforts into areas where they think it will best help. However, to me, this article came across as nothing more of a slam on those groups than anything else.

    The trout orgs will keep supporting trout. Nothing wrong with that – other orgs will focus elsewhere. If you don’t want to support the trout groups, then don’t. But instead of slamming them, channel your $$ and efforts into something positive / useful.

    Seems to me that most people would much rather complain than take action…

    BTW – Please do not think I am a blind follower of the trout groups. I support them (to a point), but I also work with and support (time and $$) other groups in my area, which do such things as local in-stream improvement, raparian, etc.

    Charity starts at home.

  6. My tone is in part a slam, and part my own despondency. I feel the slam portion is warranted, given the track record of trout organizations – and how they use one-time grant money to bandaid a creek that really needs forever money.

    Once their triage is complete, and the creek makes our angling magazines as a “hot” destination, we promptly destroy their efforts with our numbers and our unclean feet.

    That’s what’s happened in the past, that’s what they repeat time and time again with our dollars.

    In contrast, I fish an unloved creek that is wiped out each year by dewatering, and all it needs to restore itself is a little trickle of water and time.

    Contrast the “trout” costs and upkeep with the restoration of the unclean creek, mine is far cheaper.

    My creek used to hold more salmon than the Upper Shasta, yet because it holds none now, somehow can be ignored.

    I cannot in good conscience continue to pay for bandaid fixes. And as the economy is poor and the conservation orgs are tapped for cash, perhaps they need to rethink “clean water for clean fish” and think “dirty water for anything that swims.”

    If global warming is real (and many think its not) then aren’t we wasting money on fish that will be dead within a decade, once the drainage warms a degree or two?

    I think conservation needs to evolve in light of ecological dynamics. Do we back a known weakling, or go with a the sturdy cockroach … which’ll survive ten degrees of climate change and being dropkicked thirty yards when it has the nerve to bite your fly.

    I think conservation deserves some slam. Asian carp, global warming, quagga mussles, and rock snot, might we need to adapt our strategy to compete with new conditions and new predation?

  7. In Alaska their are “conservation” groups that are owned by big oil and mining interests. Whatever Alaska has allowed, big business in the lower 48 have done first on a larger scale. They act as holding companies for pollution sites, a source of volunteer labor and a means of purchasing real estate of interest. kbarton10 is pointing out that the focus of conservation groups is myopic and deserves our consideration. No harm in that considering he didn’t ask anyone to do as he is doing. So, if conservation like the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation is a puppet organization of BP shouldn’t we slam their agenda? Just a little? Follow the money? Conservation has a serious problem and it hasn’t anything to do with salmonids. It has to do with ownership and intent.

  8. KBarton10, I think we share some of the same ideals, but we are looking at them differntly.

    I still do not think certain conversation deservse a slam. My reasoning is because doing so is a useless waste of energy, and it won’t change those groups anyway. If you do not agree with a certain group, withdraw your support from and walk away.

    But, that’s not even the half of it. If you truly want to help out something / some place that has meaning to you, you need to DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE. Join another org, help out with work days, whatever. DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE!

    As you have already seen, no one else will do it for you.

    OK, I have said all that I will- I no longer feel “confused”, and I will not comment further on this thread.

    I wish you well in whatever efforts you choose to undertake (and I hope you will choose to undertake them!).

  9. I thought your post was well thought out stated clearly. A couple years ago it would have been more of a rant. You are mellowing out as you age.

  10. By all means limit your support to organizations you believe in and don’t deal with the ones that you don’t but right now in fly fishing trout are king and so thats where most conservation organizations will gravitate to. Could these organizations do more, sure, but at least they are doing some good and thats worthy of the support they receive imo.

  11. As ever an excellent post – very happy that you didn’t really stop.

    I have a lot of sympathy with your view; single issue conservation a strop for the ego and the strange obsession with getting the youth into the sport etc. But, and accepting your thesis, how far does it go before you look at the fishing and think – this is silly.

    I don’t mean the “standing in a river waving a stick” ridiculousness, an assessment I never agreed with anyway as it was, on the one hand, just a way of saying aren’t we cool/offbeat and on the other simply wrong – fishing was never any more ridiculous than a multitude of other adult pastimes.

    I mean sir, when you find your future realised, find yourself wading in the toxic flow (presumably protected by some sort of Iron Man encasement), casting twinkies to lure Frankenfish, would you not look at it, remember what it was, memory nudged by the dead cat drifting by, and say ….”that’s enough”…?

  12. I think fishermen are gluttons for punishment. Deprivation and suffering is the measure of sporting manhood, and we’ll certainly think fondly of what used to be, but we’ll embrace what is with as much enthusiasm.

    We have to explain to our co-workers why we’re always scratching our shins, and fondness for toxic rivulets will be part of the recital of weekend daring do …

    I think today will always be “The Good Old Days” to some angler, even if it’s only a shadow of what their Poppa fished.

  13. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. If you want to boycott the organizations that are at least trying to do something to save salmonids then I think all the trout and salmon fly tyers should boycott your sixth finger and dubbing enterprise.

  14. TwoRod:
    As we’re talking about a group of fellows with the moral fiber to club baby seals and secret their hides across international borders, who rob museums of rare bird skins, and who ignore the pleas of environmental groups and denude the Amazon of songbirds…

    Bring it. Bring that weaksauce. I accept your deal.

  15. I feel your pain brother…

    My river still flows cold and clear, but my hunting grounds are being developed and fracked.

    Some of my fellow “sportmen” say frack away until gas prices drop back to $1.50, plus all the new roads will provide better access.

    We are doomed to be in the minority to those that prefer to mow grass.

    In 2003, the Wildlife Society concluded “…that economic growth and wildlife conservation are conflicting societal goals and that economic growth is a primary goal in the U.S.”

    What took them so long?

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