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In many cultures, mountains and water have a special significance and attraction. In China, an ancient song titled “High Mountains and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship. In the Bible, Psalm 23’s well-known verse three teaches, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul,” and those of us who pursue fly fishing in the mountains around moving water know the therapeutic value of a day spent on the water.
In 2007, a group in Bozeman decided that this experience would help aid in the recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors from the injuries, both physical and psychological, that they received during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this idea sprang the Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation for which I served as both the volunteer director of fly fishing operations and a board member from 2007-2010. During that time, the program grew from two five-day events to eight events that served 40-50 wounded warriors and their spouses each year.
The typical fishing experience is a five-day event that begins with equipment fitting, compliments of Simms Fishing Products, followed by a day of fly fishing instruction on a local pond; we call it Fly Fishing 101. Events typically conclude with two days of guided fishing and a sight-seeing trip into Yellowstone National Park.
Participants with injuries ranging from bilateral amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder come from military medical facilities across the U.S. and are fully equipped, accommodated and cared for during their stay by a group of dedicated Warriors and Quiet Waters volunteers.
I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters and another great therapeutic fly fishing program, Project Healing Waters, for seven years. During that time, I’ve seen first-hand the palpable impact that time spent in the mountains, around flowing water and fly fishing has on these wounded warriors and vets.
I could tell their stories myself, but the most powerful testimonies come directly from the participants themselves.
“Fly fishing has given me a chance to ease my mind. There is no peace quite like being on the river surrounded by surreal beauty with only a friend, Mother Nature and yourself. When I leave the river, I feel rejuvenated and optimistic.”
– Avery, a wounded U.S. Army soldier
“I really wanted to mention the day we had at the creek. I had a great time, and even if I had not caught a single fish it would have still been tops. The scenery was great, the wildlife was awesome and I could have just sat on the bank and imagined I was in heaven. I will never forget my day on the creek. It was like a year’s worth of therapy wrapped into a single moment.”
We do this because these high mountains and flowing water experiences change lives, and, in some cases, they even save them. I will leave you with the following story from Chris, a U.S. Air Force wounded warrior:
“While I was in the ICU, I died three times, flat-lined. I don’t recall much, except for the last time. The last time I flat-lined I do recall accepting it that my body just could not handle the stress of it any longer. Things were going dark for me, but I remembered a Warriors and Quiet Waters fishing trip that I took to Montana. I was fishing at the place where they filmed the movie ARiver Runs Through It. I saw the old train tracks, and I saw myself sitting on a rock just fishing, not trying too hard, but just relaxing. It was the most relaxing place ever for me. But, I knew I was going to die and this was it. But when this happened, I pictured my son sitting on the rock with me smiling away as we were fishing. Then, all the alarms were going off in ICU, but I accepted it and then everything went black. Four days or so later I woke up. I was out the entire time. I was told by the nurse I flat-lined three times and almost died. In her words it was a miracle I am still alive.”
Join the TRCP in Shaping a Future for Conservation
Every day, hunters and anglers see wetlands drained and buffer strips bulldozed – and valuable acres once enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program plowed into corn fields. Guides cancel hunts with their clients because there are so few birds – and the habitat needed to support them is quickly disappearing.
“Here they come!” Randal hissed in my ear. “Get ready to shoot!”
The doves flew in a wild circle past the hay bale where we stood, their silhouettes fast moving against the North Dakota sky. I shouldered the Remington 20-gauge and fired once, twice.
The doves kept flying, heading south. In the distance, shots rang out, and two of the birds dropped. I heard laughter from the next hay bale and looked over in time to see my companions share a high five.
“I think the birds flew closer to them this time around,” Randal said diplomatically.
No matter. While my pride would have liked to down a bird, I was just happy to be afield on a gloriously unfolding September morning, with fine guns, old friends and new, and the wide-open Northern Plains before me.
I was east of Bismarck, N.D., at the TRCP’s Western Media Summit, an annual event that brings together some of the best and brightest in outdoors and natural resources journalism along with policy experts, conservationists and other influential names in the sportsmen’s community. For three days, we’d be talking about the most critical issues currently facing hunters, anglers and others who appreciate and enjoy our nation’s unique outdoor opportunities – and trying to figure out how to make decision-makers in Washington, D.C., heed the growing voice that is sportsmen as they set policy that affects our fish, wildlife and natural resources.
Our partner for the 2013 Western summit was Ducks Unlimited, which hosted our policy sessions at DU’s Great Plains Regional Office. DU staff members also graciously guided summit attendees during our field outings: early season dove hunting near Bismarck and walleye, pike and perch fishing on lakes fed by the Mighty Mo.
With me that morning were DU’s Randal Dell and Matt Shappell; Matt Miller, senior science writer for The Nature Conservancy and freelancer for publications ranging from Sports Afield to National Geographic Online; and Bill Klyn, international business development manager for Patagonia.
We were fortunate to be able to access excellent bird habitat that day. North Dakota, like so many other Great Plains states, has experienced a rapid loss of grassland ecosystems due to economic factors that incentivize the conversion of land to intense row-crop production. Rural landscapes have changed profoundly as a result.
Agricultural practices have changed, too. Converting from grass pasture to row crops has never been so potentially lucrative. Yet it still is possible – and speakers at the TRCP summit confirmed this – to minimize grassland loss and make a living off the intact prairie. In Bismarck, we heard from landowners who practice conscientious management strategies and invest in their land’s health – resulting in an economically sound operation that allows bird populations to thrive.
Our dove hunt that day brought these details into sharp focus. We were hunting on lands managed to sustain wildlife while still being economically viable. The growing pile of doves at our feet testified to the success of these management practices. But we also drove past a seemingly endless cornfield that until a year ago had been native prairie. The difference was palpable.
That’s why the TRCP media summits are important: They expose writers to ideas, places and practices that clearly illustrate the impacts of federal resource policy and the land management practices that result. When groups like DU and the TRCP advocate for stronger conservation programs in the Farm Bill, places like the fields and grasslands near Bismarck, N.D. – and the hunters who frequent them – all stand to gain.
The Feds Map Where U.S. Water Goes … and It’s Fascinating
The National Atlas of the United States is a periodic publication of a federal partnership led by the U.S. Geological Survey. It contains a wealth of data and maps to “capture and depict the patterns, conditions, and trends of American life.” Earlier this summer, this partnership released a tool that may change the way you think about the movement of water in America.
Streamer is an interactive mapping tool that lets you follow any major river or stream in America upstream to its headwaters or downstream to the ocean. With it you can see, starting from any point in America, where the water in your stream is coming from and going to. It’s like a Google map for rivers.
Take, for example, the Mississippi River. By clicking on the mouth of the Mississippi River where it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, you can get a map, like the one below, that shows every stream and river that drains into the Mississippi River. If you’re one of the 85 million people living in this area that touches 31 states, you live in one of the top five largest draining basins in the world, covering about one-third of the U.S. land mass.
With maps like this, you can start to appreciate the interconnectedness of water. You can see that what happens to water in western Pennsylvania or eastern Colorado matters to what the water will be like in Louisiana. Keep this map in mind during upcoming debates about the Clean Water Act. Water doesn’t care about state boundaries. It simply flows inexorably, inevitably downhill. Therefore, sportsmen and women need effective federal protections to safeguard the fish, wildlife and habitat that sustain our proud sporting traditions.
This map also shows that what gets put into the water upstream in South Dakota eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
That’s why the TRCP launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange. In it, we brought South Dakota farmers and ranchers together with Louisiana Gulf fishermen to see firsthand the challenges each faces making a living on the Mississippi River that connects them – and to seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.
Currently, pollution in the Mississippi River – large amounts of it coming from farming and ranching activities in the upper reaches of the river – enters the Gulf, killing aquatic life in an area the size of Connecticut. There have been positive developments. Minnesota just proposed a plan to reduce its pollution contribution by 20-35 percent. But there’s still a long way to go to protect this resource and preserve the recreational fishing and agricultural economies at either end of the river.
In the meantime, go play around with Streamer and see where your favorite stream leads.
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