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Entries in Izaak Walton League (6)


Green Decoys Exposes 'Radical Environmentalists' in Outdoors Camouflage

For awhile, I’ve been concerned that the interests of anglers and hunters are being weakened and compromised, as groups that supposedly represent them embrace friendship and funding from preservationist and left-wing organizations and financiers.

In fact, I wrote about this awhile back, when I discovered that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had been named to the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). (You can read my post about that here.)  I also was concerned about its acceptance of grants from left-leaning trusts.

Others in the fishing and hunting community share my concerns, it seems, as the launch of a new website, Green Decoys, demonstrates. Founded by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), its intent is to “expose radical environmentalists camouflaged under outdoor-sounding names whose real objective is to serve the interests of their wealthy backers.”

Its targets: TRCP, Izaak Walton League of America, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“These self-anointed sportsmen’s groups posture as advocates for the hunting and fishing communities, but their funding tells the real story,” said CCF Senior Research Analyst Will Coggin. “Given the millions they collectively take from radical activists, it’s clear they serve an environmentalist master, not America’s sportsmen.”

My biggest regret regarding this campaign is that it clearly is based on the assumption that real anglers and hunters can be only on the right-side of the political spectrum. Traditionally, I don’t think that’s true.

But the sad reality today is that the leftist ideology in general is anti-fishing and anti-hunting, as its direction is shaped by environmental preservationists who want to force us off the water and out of the woods.

I write about the difference between being an environmentalist and a conservationist in my new book, Why We Fish.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay “I’m Not an Environmentalist”:

“We don’t want to be called 'environmentalists' because we associate that description with agenda-driven campaigns for preservation policies that often are not backed by scientific evidence.

“For anglers, 'conservationist' is the term of choice. Conservationists believe in both protection and sustainable use of our lands, waters, and other natural resources. They follow an ethical code of behavior and embrace a stewardship philosophy.

“So we have two factions, conservationists and environmentalists, sharing many of the same values, but more often viewing each other as enemies than allies.”


Izaak Walton League Was Champion for Recreational Fishing

Many in the industry recognize that B.A.S.S. played a pivotal role in the growth of recreational fishing as an economic powerhouse. But what most do not know is the important part played by the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) nearly 90 years ago.

If not for IWLA’s successful crusade to protect black bass from commercial harvest, it’s conceivable that largemouth and smallmouth populations would have been so depleted by the late 1960s that B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott would have stayed in the insurance business instead of founding his conservation and tournament fishing organization.

“That was an issue vitally important to our organization and sport fishing in general,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations. “It ranks very, very highly in our list of accomplishments because it goes to the roots of our organization supporting conservation and outdoor recreation.

“We wanted to protect a resource that was under threat and being rapidly depleted.”

Meeting in Chicago in 1922, sportsmen concerned about  the nation’s waters and wild places decided to form “a federation of fishing clubs” and name it after Izaak Walton, a 17th century fisherman/conservationist who wrote The Compleat Angler. Almost immediately, the goal became to protect outdoor America, as concern focused on how commercial harvest was depleting black bass populations.

By the late 19th century, market hunting had pushed some wildlife species to the brink of extinction. State laws couldn’t prevent overharvest because wildlife simply could be acquired in one state and shipped to another. Passage of the federal Lacey Act in 1900 stopped that trade, but it did nothing to protect fish.

Sounding the alarm, IWLA’s Outdoor America Magazine said this in its February 1926 issue:

“Scientists state that the yearly toll of black bass in this country is so great compared with the yearly hatch that this greatest of American game fishes is certain to become extinct within 10 years unless extraordinary efforts are made to protect it.”

In response to this threat, IWLA worked with Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri to introduce into Congress the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was the fish equivalent of the Lacey Act. Speaking on behalf of the bill in the Senate, James Watson of Indiana said, “The bass is undoubtedly the great American game fish and the favorite of millions of the rank and file of American anglers. It is found all American fresh waters, ponds, lakes, and streams.”

And in its July 1926 issue of Outdoor America, the organization proudly proclaimed, “Great Waltonian measure becomes a law May 20.” In concluding an article about the historic event, E.H.R. said, “This measure is perhaps the greatest ever passed in the interest of game fish.”

The Black Bass Act was expanded in 1947 to include all game fish and in 1952 to apply to all fish. In 1982, it was repealed, with its provisions incorporated into the Lacey Act, which protects fish, birds, and wildlife.

Sadly, today it might not be enough to protect bass populations in New York and its surrounding states. Despite fierce opposition from angling advocates, that state recently approved sale of hatchery-raised bass in restaurants and markets, with no requirement that those fish be marked to confirm their origin.

“It’s rather disheartening to see the state’s absolute unwillingness to impose a regulation that would have required individualized tagging (serial numbers),” said Mike Cusano, former president of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation (NYBN) and chairman of the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.

“This regulation is going to impact bass populations across the state as market owners realize that wild-caught black bass are a much cheaper alternative than the hatchery-raised fish,” he continued.

Yes, the regulation stipulates that the fish must be hatchery-raised, but the words of Seth Gordon, the first conservation director for IWLA, serve as a chilling reminder of what once was and what could again be when we don’t learn from history.

 “So long as there is a legal market anywhere, you may bank on it that thousands of pounds of illegally caught bass will be sold,” he said during the campaign on behalf of the Black Bass Act.

 IWLA Today

 With the majority of IWLA’s membership from the Middle Atlantic through the Ohio Valley and into the Upper Midwest, sale of hatchery-raised bass in New York isn’t an issue that the organization is involved in.

“But our members everywhere practice common sense conservation,” Kovarovics emphasized. “They want to enjoy the outdoors while preserving the resource for the future.”

On the national front, strengthening the federal Clean Water Act is one of the IWLA’s top priorities.

“New EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) numbers are just out that show 55 percent of our rivers and streams are in poor condition,” he said. “And even though that‘s the latest, it’s based on random samples from 2008 and 2009. We don’t have quality information about how bad it is right now.”

IWLA also promotes healthy, sustainable agriculture and clean energy and air, as well as focuses on introducing children to the outdoors through fishing and other activities.

On the agricultural front, IWLA is concerned because market policy (high prices) is pushing more and more acreage into crops, Kovarovics said.  That translates into less land for wildlife and as buffer strips to protect water from agricultural runoff pollution. “We support voluntary conservation programs and cooperative compliance, but, unfortunately, that’s beginning to erode,” he said.

Additionally, IWLA pushes for restoration of large ecosystems, the executive director added, pointing specifically to improving water quality and fish habitat in the Upper Mississippi and Upper Missouri Rivers.

“The goal (in the Upper Missouri) is to bring back the endangered pallid sturgeon, the least tern, and the piping plover,” he said. “But when you improve habitat for them, you provide a multitude of benefits for other species.”

The organization’s 41,500 members, meanwhile, belong to 250 chapters, which sponsor conservation work and youth activities in their local communities. They monitor water quality and restore habitat, as well as organize cleanups. They provide hunter safety training for children.

“We connect kids to fishing through spring and summer events that were developed organically by the chapters over the years,” Kovarovics said. “And at the same time the kids are fishing, they are learning about habitat conservation. We mix fun with a bit of education.”

In its chapter manual, the organization provides members a variety of ways to get children and families outdoors, including the following:  hunter education, family day outings, scouting, national hunting and fishing day, wildlife habitat improvement, youth fishing events, youth hunting events, and youth conservation camp/outdoor classroom.

Also, IWLA keeps its members informed and involved through e-mail blasts, monthly newsletters, and, of course, its quarterly magazine, Outdoor America, which led the charge to protect America’s No. 1 sport fish, the black bass, nearly 90 years ago.

“The lakes, rivers, and streams where these fish are found are public property, open to the rich and poor alike,” IWLA said in the February 1926 issue, as urged its members to support the Black Bass Act. “Fishing is the least expensive of all sports. It gives the youngest boy his first contact with nature, his first feeling of mastery . . .

“This is not a sportsman’s bill. It is for the rich and poor alike. It is to preserve for those that come after us the things we have enjoyed.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer .)


History Reveals Bleak Time for Black Bass

 Hickling's Fish Farm photo of hatchery-raised bass

Despite objections from many of the state’s anglers, New York recently decided to allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants. The regulation stipulates that they must be hatchery-raised, but the words of Seth Gordon, the first conservation director for the Izaak Walton League (IWL), serve as a chilling reminder of what once was and what could again be when we don’t learn from history.

“So long as there is a legal market anywhere, you may bank on it that thousands of pounds of illegally caught bass will be sold,” he said during IWL’s all but forgotten campaign during the 1920s to save black bass from decimation by commercial harvest.

Well into the 20th century, black bass were commercial, as well as sport fish. Even as government agencies stocked fish anywhere and everywhere and closed seasons limited sport fishing, commercial fishermen harvested largemouth and smallmouth bass with pound and fyke nets, as well as other means, for sale in the fish markets of many cities.

“Eulogy on the Black Bass” read the headline in a 1927 issue of Forest and Stream, and another in 1930 screamed, “Defrauding Ten Million Anglers.” In the latter article, Edward Kemper slammed the Bureau of Fisheries for “overseeing the slaughter of millions and millions of black bass” and he included a “role of dishonor,” naming 10 states that continued to allow sale of bass in markets.

IWL was the prime mover for passage of the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was introduced into Congress by Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri. As the law prohibited shipment of bass across state lines, IWL also worked within those states to outlaw commercial harvest.

I learned about this little known chapter in bass history from Jim Long, assistant unit leader of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. He came across this and other long forgotten information as he prepared a presentation on the history of black bass management for a Black Bass Diversity Symposium at a Southern Division Meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

“I’ve read some histories of fisheries but I’ve never seen one for black bass,” he told me. “I wanted original newspaper clippings, not third-hand accounts, and data bases made that possible,” he said.

Pouring through archives, Long found a headline from the 1920s that proclaimed “Hoover Laments Decline of Fishing.” And he discovered that the New York Times listed black bass regulations during the 1870s. “That’s something you don’t see today,” he said.

As he divided his search into major time periods, starting with the 1800s, what surprised Long the most were the influential roles played by the IWL and, before that, by Dr. James A. Henshall.

Author of the 1881 Book of the Black Bass, Henshall was a medical doctor and passionate bass angler. The most quoted line in bass fishing literature belongs to him: “I consider him (black bass), inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.”

Henshall’s passion, said Long, was to promote black bass as “a pre-eminent gamefish.” But the doctor also was a “lumper,” countering decades of science that preceded him.

Long coined that phrase as the opposite to “splitters,” which describes those who recognize multiple bass species.

“Henshall did a lot of really good work, but he considered the spotted bass a smallmouth, the Guadalupe a largemouth, and the Florida a largemouth,” Long explained. “And he was the authoritative voice.”

So, even though the smallmouth bass and then largemouth bass were identified in 1802, the spotted bass in 1819, the Florida bass in 1822, and the Guadalupe bass in 1874, Henshall’s lumping successfully countered their acknowledgement as separate species until the 1940s.

By the way, no one knows where that first smallmouth was caught before it was shipped to France to be analyzed and given its Latin name. But what Long discovered is that the black bass’s keystone designation as Micropterus was based on a damaged dorsal fin. “It looked like it had a second, smaller dorsal,” he said. “And that word means small fin or wing.”

With improvement in science over the decades, especially in genetics, Henshall’s lumping has fallen out of favor and we’re not likely to name any new species based on an imperfection. Also, we’ve become much more selective about how and when we stock, and we’re focused on improving habitat as never before as a way to sustain fisheries.

All those are good things. Seeing what has happened in New York, though, I am troubled by our politicians and their propensity for repeating harmful chapters in our history.

(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)       


Anti-Fishing Agendas Revealed: Part 2

(Author's note: This is Part 2 of my feature on the anti-fishing movement. Part 1 was posted on Aug. 31. Read it below. An abbreviated version of this piece was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times. Tomorrow, I'll post a related opinion piece that reveals how and why the anti-fishing movement has succeeded in Europe and why that same thing might happen here.)


Government agencies and environmental groups, meanwhile, present larger and more dangerous challenges.

For example, the National Park Service has limited angler access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and seems intent on doing much the same at Florida’s Biscayne Bay. It cites the need to protect species and habitat for its actions.

“The National Park Service likes people who drive through on paved roads, get out to look, and then drive on,” said ASA’s Robertson. “It doesn’t like people who require a higher degree of attention, like anglers and snowmobilers.”

Sandlin added, “The National Park Service and some others seem solely and exclusively focuses on preserving. They have little experience with hunting and fishing and they don’t understand that people in those sports support conservation.

“They don’t implement a broad enough mission. It’s not just about preserving a pristine area, it’s about enjoying and interacting with nature.”

Preservation also is what drives many environmental groups and charitable foundations, including those that worked with the current administration to develop a National Ocean Policy, designed to zone uses of our waters.  First and foremost on their agendas are implementation of marine protected areas and preserves, where recreational fishing and other sustainable uses are not allowed.

Their ranks include Oceana, World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as PEW Oceans Conservancy, Packard Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Their actions don’t suggest any appreciation for the value of recreational angling to society, economies, and conservation. But are they anti-fishing per se?

Shimano’s Morlock thinks that at least some in their ranks might be.

“After years of various fishing organizations pointing out these negative impacts (caused by closures) to key members of the environmental community, one could ask how it is that they continue to fail to consider the negative impacts of their efforts on recreational fishing,” he said.

“It would be reasonable to draw the conclusion at some point that these actions and initiatives by Big Green groups translate from incidental to intentional.”

Considering that preservationists believe that we should live apart from nature --- to protect it --- instead of as a part of nature, that’s a logical assumption. Like animal rights groups, preservationists embrace an ideology based more on emotions than facts, and they’re finding an increasingly receptive audience in today’s urbanized society.

In fact, it’s entirely reasonable to suspect that preservation is driving most of the threats, from lead ban attempts to NPS actions and the National Ocean Policy.

“With urbanization, you see a detachment from the outdoors,” said ASA’s Robertson. “That lends to a lesser understanding of recreational fishing and management.

“Fishing still enjoys a high approval rating in survey after survey, but the drift from country to urban is a challenge.”

What to do about it?

No matter how popular recreational fishing remains in surveys, it cannot survive without aggressive support from individual anglers, fishing groups, and elected officials --- educated elected officials.

“Too often we see a knee-jerk reaction (among government officials) to any sort of information presented about a declining population or some other perceived environmental problem,” Max Sandlin said.

“Many attempts to address these issues are well intentioned, but often are reactionary and lack a basis in sound science. It is critical that issues such as economic benefit, access to public lands, recreational opportunities, and similar matters be considered as vital elements of proposed solutions to an perceived problems --- problems which, after further inspection, often don’t exist.”

The education process begins with the individuals and groups, extolling the “collateral benefits” that recreational angling provides, according to Tom Sadler. They include clean water and healthy fisheries, as well as economic benefits.

“We have to look for ways to better get that message out to the American people, especially people who see fishing as a recreation easily replaced.

“We have to do more to support and empower groups like Recycled Fish, the Izaak Walton League, Trout Unlimited, B.A.S.S., and the Federation of Fly Fishers. These struggle for support, energy, and resources.

“And we have to do what we can to talk to people other than the choir. Social media create that opportunity.”

Chris Horton added that anglers must pay attention to issues and communicate with both their state and federal representatives regarding those issues.

“Through the network of state sportsmen’s caucuses, as well as the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, we have legislators who are willing to protect and advance our angling heritage,” he said.

“There’s a great opportunity to make a difference today. Right now, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act passed the House and is currently in the Senate. We encourage all anglers to contact their senators and express support for a strong pro-sportsmen’s legislative package.

“With 60 million anglers in this country, we have the ability to significantly impact legislative and administrative decisions regarding recreational angling --- but your elected officials must hear from you.”



Izaak Walton League Celebrates 90 Years of Defending Outdoors

Long before the federal Clean Water Act was passed in the early 1970s, the Izaak Walton League was fighting against pollution and destruction of our fisheries.

The organization is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year and says the following:

“Our more than 250 chapters are rooted in communities across America, meeting local conservation challenges and working to introduce youth and families to conservation and outdoor recreation. Chapter members build nature trails, restore stream banks, and plant trees.

“Many chapters are community centers for fishing and shooting sports and offer hunter education classes and fishing clinics to promote responsible outdoor behavior and activities. League chapters also award more than $125,000 in scholarships each year to college students working toward natural resource degrees. And this is just a fraction of what Ikes do.

“As the Izaak Walton League of America reaches its 90th anniversary in 2012, we encourage our members and supporters across the country to join us in celebrating the League’s tradition of grassroots conservation activism and working to ensure the health of our natural resources for generations to come.”