A Monument to Headwaters

Watch this clip of WVTU's Philip Smith as he and other monument advocates discuss the importance of cold, clean, fishable water on PBS This American Land.


Trout Unlimited is West Virginia's largest and most effective sportsman’s conservation organization. Growing with over 1,600 volunteer members, now nine chapters, and a staff of more than a dozen professionals we have restored hundreds of miles of coldwater habitat in West Virginia and continue to make large scale sustainable improvements to our angling resources. Our volunteers give up their vacation days and weekends that they could be fishing to improve our public trout streams. TU has and will continue to focus all our efforts to conserve, protect, and restore our streams for ALL West Virginia’s anglers – young and old, dry fly and nightcrawler, release and creel.

When opportunities come up to improve coldwater fisheries, conserve public lands and preserve our sporting heritage, TU must be actively involved as leaders of those discussions.  That’s exactly what we chose to do in the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument initiative.  We could have let kneejerk reactions drive us to oppose the initiative without even considering it, but TU and other sportsmen were being asked to define a proposal.  We knew there were elements that fit entirely within our organization’s mission, but as with any land protection measure, there were concerns that had to be addressed.  It wasn’t that WVTU said ‘yes’ to just any national monument, but instead we took the opportunity to define what a monument had to look like for anglers and other sportsmen.  We believe a more permanent national monument designation will give sportsmen a stronger guarantee that our beloved streams will always remain special, but we also required guarantees for access and continued flexible management.  Had WVTU chosen not to participate in this discussion, the only guarantee would have been that the voice of anglers, as well as our partners in the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, would not have been considered in the proposal process. 

When we came to the table, we took the lead in defining a proposal that addressed the needs of sportsmen.   The proposal prioritizes stream restoration and protection, and does not diminish the role of WVDNR.  That means stream liming will continue, the DNR may continue to stock non-native trout where appropriate, access will be preserved, and the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument celebrates our hunting and fishing heritage.  Still, our advocacy in this initiative has sparked misinformation and accusations that TU’s involvement stems from an ulterior motive, such as an end to stocking in certain waters.  TU has never opposed stocking any non-native trout in the Williams, Cranberry, Elk, or Cherry Rivers.   Our involvement in the Birthplace of Rivers initiative is entirely driven by our organizational mission, as well as our desire to see sportsmen represented in a professional manner.

Our TU policy to not stock non-native trout over native populations is strictly an internal policy. Our mission is to conserve, protect, and restore our coldwater fisheries – stocking non-natives over an existing native population genetically manifested by God to live in that stream does not achieve those mission objectives. We realize that the priorities of the WVDNR are different, but we strive to work with our managing agencies on shared priorities.  In the case of Birthplace of Rivers, we share many values with WVDNR and other sportsman’s organizations, so there’s no reason why we can’t advocate for those groups’ interests to be included in a viable designation.

Some have concerns a national monument would lead to additional federal control, but the designation would actually safeguard our woods and waters from dangerous bureaucratic decisions that are bad for sportsmen, bad for trout and bad for West Virginians.  The designation will ensure by law the values and activities we love about the area will be around for future generations of West Virginia sportsmen, that they won’t be compromised by profit-driven interests in Washington. Recent action by Congress may lead to drastic change on the Monongahela National Forest and other public lands.  HR 1526 is an extreme measure which would shift balanced multi-use management to drastic mandates for industrial activity without regard to recreation, water quality or other shared values of the National Forest system.   This and other bills would limit the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and expand the use of categorical exclusions, thus REDUCING the opportunities for public input and analysis. Another is recent House passage of HR 761 “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013”. Under this legislation, virtually any non-vegetative material removed from public lands is considered a “critical and strategic mineral” for which the normal environmental statutes and policies do not apply. One section of this bill declares that the priority of the lead agency (in this case the USFS) is to maximize mineral resource development. HR 1965, the “Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act”, was passed by the House and requires land managers to approve leases, permits and projects without considering potential impacts on the environment or public health.  The bill limits and even penalizes public scrutiny of decisions on use of public lands by eviscerating NEPA.

These are only a few examples of how quickly and drastically Congress or future administrations could change the lands that all West Virginia sportsmen have grown to cherish above all others.  We might not be able to prevent big changes on all federal public lands, but we should strive to preserve our most cherished lands and streams.  National monument status is one way to protect our sporting heritage on one special area, so that our grandchildren can experience places like the Cranberry Rivers and Tea Creek Backcountry, just the way we do today. 

The national monument proposal has been structured to meet the needs of other constituencies, in addition to the WVDNR.  Today, little to no active timbering occurs in the area, but the proposal follows the examples of several other national monuments to prioritize active restoration where it is emphasized under the current forest plan, not just of red spruce, but also of hardwood communities critical for game habitat.  Timber harvest will continue to be used as a management tool for forest restoration, as well as creation and maintenance of wildlife openings for quality hunting experiences.   Other land designations have divided West Virginia’s sportsmen, but we have every reason in the world to work out a designation that protects our access and ensures the permanent viability of the hard work of TU volunteers, the WVDNR and other sportsmen have done to improve the area’s hunting and fishing resources.  

Across the country, state and local TU chapters are involved in a number of locally-crafted national monument proposals, along with other hunting and fishing organizations.  There are some great success stories from these efforts, including the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, which was backed by the Mora Valley Merriam Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, New Mexico Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and United Bowhunters of New Mexico.  Designated just one year ago, Rio Grande del Norte has served as an important model for how sportsmen can collaborate with other stakeholders to make national monuments work for us.  

As the leader of WVTU and a lifelong angler with strong connections to the Birthplace of Rivers, I would encourage anyone who cherishes these lands to join us in a professional discussion about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect our sporting heritage.  Future sportsmen in the Mountain State can’t afford for today’s leaders to be divisive, especially when issues present clear opportunities to improve and preserve the outdoor traditions that make these places so special in the first place.  Because TU said ‘yes’ to the opportunity to stand up for West Virginia sportsmen and the DNR,  this designation will be the single greatest accomplishment for the TU vision statement in the history of the organization in West Virginia.


Philip Smith,

Chair, West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited

President, Sal font Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Bamboo Fly Rod Maker

Most importantly - Father of two awesome children that love to fish




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