Fishing is a great perspective builder. So it was yesterday when Keith Curley, TU’s director of government affairs, and I snuck out of the office and biked eight miles down the Potomac River to cast flies for carp, catfish and gar.
Now, I realize that carp, gar and cats are not trout or salmon; and the places they are found are not so beautiful or remote. But fishing (especially sneaking away during work hours) is fishing; and fishing is fun. So, there we stood in the middle of the Potomac River downstream of the nation’s Capitol, and watched the extraordinary spectacle of spawning gar. We tied on Clouser minnows dipped in a secret combination of blue cheese and hummus stink bait that my five-year-old son, Casey, convinced us to try; and caught fish.
At one point, as I was in the process of hooking and losing a thrashing gar, a bald eagle flew overhead with a decent fish in its talons. I looked over at Keith and said, “It cannot get better than this.”
“Well, we could have brought beer.”
I don’t want to ruin a simple fishing story with politics, but the fact is, that when my parents went to school in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s, they never went to the Potomac, and certainly never downstream of the city.
“It was a lifeless river that smelled funny,” recalls my Mom.
And bald eagles? Forget about it. In the 1960s, the pesticide, DDT, was wreaking havoc on birds of prey such as eagles and hawks. Who changed all that? We did.
TU members, hunters and anglers, moms and dads … just regular people who said “Enough!” Economic progress is no progress at all if it comes at the expense of the lands and waters that sustain us. And we told members of Congress, “We don’t want people to spread poisonous chemicals that harm wildlife and people.” So, they banned DDT in 1972.
We said, “We don’t want rivers so polluted that fish cannot live in them and we cannot swim in them.” So, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1973.
We said, we want national icons such as the bald eagle protected and recovered, and so Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
The result of what we did is that today you can see bald eagles and catch fish in the Potomac River. The same story can be told in countless waterways across America. We’re building off of that success in places such as the Klamath and the Penobscot. Yet, we still fight some in Congress who want to dilute the Clean Water Act or limit the ability to protect and recover endangered species.
These members of Congress have lost sight of that basic fact that the health of our lands and waters is the first predicate of growing and sustaining a healthy economy. Maybe they need to get out of the Capitol and on the river for a few hours.
Fishing is a great perspective builder.
Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.