Thank you, Orvis

Perk and Dave Perkins: visionary conservation leaders

By Scott Yates

Here in Montana, a touch of spring is in the air—and that means more than just a new fishing season. It also means Trout Unlimited’s dedicated staff and volunteers are actively readying for another restoration field season. In the past decade, TU has mobilized significant conservation resources where the trout are—in some of the best fly-fishing rivers and streams across the West. We’ve placed project managers in towns and small cities like Green River, Montrose, Gunnison, Cortez, Steamboat, Green River, Saratoga, Cody, Twisp, Logan, Idaho Falls, Picabo, Salmon, Afton, and Wenatchee, where they scour the local countryside for private landowners willing to partner on innovative projects that restore streamflows, fish passage, and aquatic habitat.

On a tour with one of our primary funders last summer, TU project staff members were described by one participant as “modern-day extension agents,” and that comment resonates. TU is that middle-man, if you will, between federal and state resources and local communities—with the capacity to help secure precious federal, state, and private funding, sit down at the red-checkered table cloth with a rancher or farmer to design a project that helps trout, salmon, or steelhead, and then make sure it happens.

We depend on trusted partners and funders to make that happen, such as our federal and state resource partners that have helped TU increase our revenue for such project work ten-fold over the past decade.

But we also depend on partners in the fishing and recreation industry, who understand the importance of protecting the health of rivers that sustain our sporting heritage.

One of my favorite examples of corporate conservation leadership—and I cite it early and often these days—is the venerable Orvis Company, and its visionary leaders, Perk and Dave Perkins.  Most people who fish have benefited (whether they realize it or not) from the tremendous conservation support over the years from Orvis in a variety of forms, including their traditional matching dollars catalogue campaigns and, most recently, the Orvis-TU 1,000 miles partnership to eliminate some of the worst in-stream fish barriers across the country. 

But there’s been so much more to the story.  Perk and Dave are vastly experienced anglers who know this country’s trout waters, and where restoration might have the greatest benefit to angling opportunities. And the company and its leaders have never hesitated to reach out to TU about a specific project in a specific watershed near and dear to local anglers and Orvis customers. What’s more, they’ve stepped up at critical times to provide funding to make these conservation projects happen.

A  couple of great examples: They helped TU launch a massive irrigation infrastructure upgrade in Montana ranchland that will help modernize agricultural operations and result in healthier flows (and better fishing) in the Sun River. On the Upper Snake River in Wyoming, they took a keen interest in taking out half century-old, channel-blocking dams on Spread Creek and the Gros Ventre River—projects that have opened up more than 100 miles of prime native cutthroat habitat.  They then contributed funds to help close on important phases of each of those incredible projects.

They also understand the importance of place, and of putting real boots-on-the-ground to restore fisheries in rural communities.  They helped TU kick-start a Salt River Program and put a fisheries expert with an agricultural background on the ground to talk with private landowners about fish passage and screens—an investment that led to significant habitat improvements on the Salt.

Because of their leadership, we’re now exploring further collaborative stream restoration projects on key tributaries of the Salt.

So if you’re in an Orvis shop this summer, or run into Perk or Dave fishing a Rocky Mountain river or stream, offer a quick congratulatory handshake or slap on the back. It’s well-earned. Tell them you appreciate Orvis’ efforts to improve habitat and fishing on our nation’s trout streams.  

Orvis has been around long enough to know that fisheries restoration, like a lot of politics in the rural West, is truly local.  They understand that putting local TU project managers on trout rivers and streams—and then letting them build relationships, bring resources together, and work with the agricultural community to find innovative solutions—is the surest way to protect, reconnect, restore, and sustain our favorite trout waters.

With Orvis’ help, we’ll be out there this spring, making it happen.

Scott Yates is director of TU’s Western Water Project.

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