Election losses and wins

Wild Alaska at dusk.

By Chris Wood

Last Tuesday was Election Day.

The Democrats took over in the House of Representatives. The Republicans solidified their hold on the Senate. Buried in the shuffle was the outcome of two separate ballot initiatives

. First, in Montana, Trout Unlimited worked closely with Montana TU and other partners on Initiative 186. Had it passed, it would have required the state to deny permits for mines that cause perpetual pollution.

In Alaska, we were part of a very broad coalition seeking to pass Measure 1. Had it passed, it would have allowed the state discretion to deny permits for large development projects that would cause irreparable harm to salmon and steelhead such as the Pebble Mine.

Although we fell short in Alaska and Montana, TU staff and volunteers worked exceptionally hard. Tom Reed, David Brooks, Shauna Stephenson, and Colin Cooney led the Montana initiative. Nellie Williams, Eric Booton, and Jenny Weis all worked hard as part of the broader Stand for Salmon coalition. TU Businesses in Montana showed up in force to argue for the initiative. In Alaska, TU staff called every one of our members in the State to get them to vote.

We were dramatically outspent by the opposition in AK and MT, but managed to build very strong support for wild fish and clean water in both campaigns.

A classic Montana trout stream.

One of Trout Unlimited’s core values is that “we work to find solutions to problems, rather than simply treating symptoms.” We can fight dumb mine proposals; ill-conceived dams; and poorly planned pipelines whenever they arise. But it is important to try to solve the problem that allows bone-head ideas to fester.

We need to take risks and try new approaches. We had never run a ballot initiative before, but we will again, and we will be better for the lessons learned in Montana and Alaska. Regardless of what party is in charge of the House of Representatives or the Senate, the more local the support, the more power we build for conservation.

Going door-to-door, gathering neighbors and friends to rally to protect wild rivers and landscapes—that’s what the ballot initiatives were about. That is what TU is about. We will certainly not give up the fight in Washington D.C., because at TU, we find opportunity where others see loss.

The ballot initiatives remind us that our job is to marry the passion people have for the places they live, love and fish to the desire of our elected leaders to remain in office. We will take our shots in D.C. on bills such as Good Samaritan, public lands renewable energy, the Farm Bill, and so on. But make no mistake about it, our success will be rooted in our strength in thousands of communities around the nation. Conservation is won at the local level. Staff or volunteer—with every project you complete, gift you close, partnership you develop, you make us stronger and more effective.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works from TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

By Chris Wood. Chris has worked at TU for 22 years, and is not the best angler, but he is among the most earnest.