Short casts: Outdoor industry dings Utah, fish and pain, wisdom from Fred Rasmussen

Patagonia and the Outdoor Industry Association have put Utah on notice for its public lands stance of late.

The outdoor recreation world has been abuzz the last few months with news that the organizers behind the lucrative Outdoor Retailer trade shows that come to Salt Lake City twice a year are considering a move to a state with a more favorable opinion of public lands.

Utah’s federal delegation, its governor and its state Legislature have all come out in recent years in support of a transfer of federal public lands to the state for management, despite overwhelming economic evidence that the state simply can’t afford to manage the land and would likely be forced to sell it. In January, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill to sell more than 3 million acres of public land in the West, but then pulled the bill after it created a firestorm in the fishing, hunting and outdoor arena. He still has a bill in the system that would eliminate law enforcement oversight from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, much to the chagrin of many who use public lands for all types of recreation, including, of course, fishing.

Today, though, one of the most influential manufacturers and retailers in the outdoor space made it official. Patagonia is leaving the Outdoor Retailer shows in Utah, and it’s encouraging other manufacturers and retailers to do the same. The Outdoor Industry Association, which produces the shows, said this week that it’s considering its options in regard to which city hosts future shows, due largely to Utah’s position on public lands. The OIA’s two shows—one in winter and one in summer—bring about $45 million to the Salt Lake economy every year.

Trout Unlimited has several staffers on the ground in Utah, doing some amazing things to make fishing better—on both public and private lands. We’re working to improve fish passage on native Bonneville and Colorado River cutthroat trout streams. We and our volunteers have worked with state officials, landowners and anglers to ensure better in-stream flows that benefit trout. TU volunteers have helped reintroduce native trout in the state, and we helped conceive and execute the wildly popular Utah Cutt-slam program. We love Utah. We’re committed to Utah. But we’re also committed to keeping public lands in public hands. We’re not going anywhere, but we’d sure like to see Utah’s elected officials be more supportive of public lands that are the sources of great rivers like the Bear, the Weber and the Provo. These lands contribute greatly to Utah’s economy and to Utah’s outdoor heritage. Here’s hoping Utah and and the outdoor industry can settle their differences.

From one painful situation to the next. Or maybe not.

According to research done by neurobiologist Brian Key, not only do fish not feel pain when they’re hooked, they cannot feel pain at all because they lack the brain structure to make pain even possible. This, of course, is a long-standing discussion among anglers and animal rights folks who argue that fishing, even when meant to put food on the table, is a cruel endeavor. As anglers, many of us now subsribe to the catch-and-release philosophy, which likely saved recreational fishing from itself many, many years ago. Today, a lot of us take this one step further, and adhere to the “keep them wet” mantra, where captured fish are only removed from the water for a short time—or not at all—before being released.

Key’s arguments have, of course, been disputed, and while it’s nice to hope he’s right and hope we’re not causing undue pain to the fish we love so much, it says a lot about our pastime and the people who love it when we work voluntarily to not only encourage the release of the trout we catch, but also the humane release, where fish are stressed as little as possible before being turned loose, all the wiser for their experience.

Finally, one of my favorite TU volunteers, Fred Rasmussen of Salida, Colo., penned this empassioned letter to up-and-coming conservationists. We should all heed Fred’s words and revel in his story as an angler and a conservationist. As he notes, understanding rivers and their fish, regardless of the nature of the river, is a great way to enter the conservation arena. Fred is a hero to many a TUer across America, and I’m proud to know him. He is, quite simply, the best of TU.

— Chris Hunt

By Chris Hunt.