As anglers, we have more in common with these folks than you might think.
By Chris Hunt
Years ago, when I first started working in advocacy for Trout Unlimited, one of our focus issues had to do with off-road vehicles and how some riders tended to take liberties on our public lands by pioneering new trails and “roads” where they didn’t belong.
While this problem still persists, there’s a more educated consumer out there these days thanks largely to the companies that sell ORVs—most have come to realize that educating customers on the proper use of these vehicles not only protects places where roads and trails don’t belong, but also the future of the ORV industry. That industry suffered a few body blows from guys like me who tired of seeing locked gates ripped open, new and illegal two-tracks churned up along mountain trout streams and general disregard for others who use our American lands, too.
In recent years, my perspective on ORV use has tempered, and I think that’s because I’m seeing fewer bad actors, more responsible use of these vehicles and some serious self-policing from the ORV community, for which I am extremely grateful.
But, not coincidentally, my change in perspection also comes amid the perverse attacks on the public lands institution itself. As more and more lawmakers are influenced by campaign cash from interests that would benefit from the sale and transfer of our American lands to private ownership, I’ve come to realize that, in the big battle to save our national birthright, I’m on the same team as someone who rides an all-terrain vehicle with the same passion that I put to use fly fishing. The threat to that rider’s pastime from the effort to privatize American public lands is just as great as the threat is to me, a rather crunchy trout bum who fishes almost exclusively in waters that flow across land that belongs to every single American.
Like the ORV rider, I tend get more out of my time-share than most Americans. I’m lucky enough to live close to some great trout fishing that requires of me the simple act of driving to the end of the road and then wandering on down to the water to make a few casts. For the guy in his new RZR, the trip to the mountains involves the same drive. From there, he can take his vehicle further into the woods on a legal ORV trail.
Every year, I buy a fishing license. Every year, he registers his vehicle. Every year, I camp with friends and family and go fishing. Every year, he does the same thing when he and his clan go riding.
We have more in common than we don’t, and perhaps the realization that we’re fighting the same battle from different perspectives is what it will take to win this unholy war being waged upon Americans who hold title to our greatest national treasure—the lands where we fish, hunt, camp … and ride. Our public lands.
I’ll likely never be an ORV guy. And I wouldn’t expect a passionate trail junky to be the least bit interested in fly fishing (but I’ll happily take anyone with me who wants to go). But as we both continue to derive the pleasures that enrich our lives from our American lands, I would hope we can find some mutual respect and beat back the distinctly un-American effort to rob us of our shared resources.
Because we’re not going to win this war on our own.
Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.