Don't wait... advocate

The author fishing during Virginia’s vibrant Fall.

by Jeffrey Constantz  

My mom taught me the old adage: Don’t discuss money, religion, or politics in polite company. Now, as a full-grown, all-knowing, 21-year-old millennial, I have a different, more nuanced opinion. To quote The Who’s 1965 hit, “My Generation,” “I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation. I’m just talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-g-generation.”

As a Government Affairs intern for Trout Unlimited, I had the honor of visiting the belly of the beast, to see how the sausage is made. No, not a Chicago meat-packing plant (for insight into that beast, check out Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle). Capitol Hill!

The other two TU interns and I tried to look as official as possible as we navigated through security checkpoints. My fellow intern, Chad, has a pretty solid beard––he looks at least 25––so I think we were safe from too much scrutiny. I walked past Sens. Ted Cruz (R) and Lisa Murkowski (R) on my way to an environmental forum led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D). A couple weeks later, I sat in on Andrew Wheeler’s (Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator) first congressional testimony.

The author pictured above Mr. Wheeler’s water pitcher.

Political orientation aside, it was hard not to be star-struck. We got to take the U.S. Senate train about 30 yards to the other set of congressional buildings. Oh, I was in the big leagues all right.

I wanted to tell my friends at my school, the University of Virginia, about my experience. But then, my mind drifted to a recent conversation I had one night on the balcony of my Charlottesville apartment: My friend James, talking about one of our classmates, said, “He posts about politics constantly on social media. I can’t stand it. He really needs to keep that stuff to himself.”

My friend Marie retorted, “Well, why is that so odd? Politics control our life. I think it’s important to be involved.”

This exchange made me question the role of politics in my g-g-g-generation. I wrestled internally with that exchange for a while. The conclusion I came to, eventually, is that there’s an important distinction between the old adage of my mom’s generation (avoid talking money, religion, politics at all costs), and responsible advocacy. As an intern at Trout Unlimited, I see first-hand that these fish and their habitats need our help. The trout can’t post on Facebook for themselves (unfortunately).

You might be asking, “OK, but why not other animals in nature? What ever happened to ‘Save the polar bears?’ Seems like some serious fisherman bias.” I’m not a biology major, but I’ll try my best to answer.

This internship has taught me that the ecosystem is deeply interconnected. The environment as a whole needs to be healthy for trout to flourish. Fly fishermen know that trout consume whatever insect is hatching and falling into the streams––as such, trout serve as a good indicator of the ecosystem’s current condition, since they’re so sensitive to changes in global climate. Trout are also sensitive to the political climate. Natural resource legislation and policy—whether it happens in Congress, at the state or local level — has a great deal of influence over whether there is less trout habitat, or more, for my g-g-g-generation.

Trout Unlimited is non-partisan. As Kate Miller (see her blog here), the director of Government Affairs at Trout Unlimited, has said, “Administrations change, but our goal remains the same––protect the fish.”

Our quest for conservation has faced some serious challenges as of late. EPA has put out several proposals that would weaken America’s favorite environmental law, the Clean Water Act, including a proposal that might lead to 60 percent of America’s stream miles being unprotected by the Clean Water Act. In Alaska, the proposal to build the Pebble Mine puts the health of America’s most productive salmon habitats and pristine watersheds at risk. Political objectives such as deregulation may have well-intentioned economic motivations, but the consequences for nature can be severe.

It’s crucial for all of us to take a moment to consider: What do such policies mean for the health of trout resources, and more broadly, the environment?

While I came into this internship aware of the challenges, I was surprised to learn of the opportunities. There are plenty of positive proposals that need your support to help balance harmful initiatives. For example, Good Samaritan legislation is pending that, if enacted, will help Trout Unlimited (and other conservation groups) clean up abandoned mines that pollute our waterways. Also, the Farm Bill will contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to projects that benefit farmers, ranchers and trout and salmon through an alphabet soup of programs, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). These acronyms keep trout happy. It’s important for you to help encourage these efforts!

A great first step is finding the information you need to understand what policies impact the environment negatively, and how exactly they do so. Once you feel comfortable and confident in your knowledge, raise your voice and communicate what changes you would like to see. For more information on this step––which can often seem daunting, if you don’t have the right tools––I invite you to take a look at the advocacy guides that Trout Unlimited has published over the years.  They’re full of great information and tips that make sure your voice is heard and your advocacy is maximally effective.

Politics notwithstanding, conservation cannot wait for the permission of polite company.

Sorry, Mom.

Jeffery Constantz is a TU government affairs intern. He’s a student at the University of Virginia.

By Chris Hunt.