TRCP’s outgoing water policy director looks back on two landmark victories bearing the unmistakable fingerprints of hunters and anglers
If you ever attend a Nationals game in Washington, D.C., leave by the southeast gate, walk through Diamond Teague Park—named for a young man who devoted much of his life to restoring the Anacostia River before his tragic death—and look for the historic Old Pump House. This building used to pump water to the plant that provides power to the U.S. Capitol before the Anacostia River became too polluted and clogged with debris. The pump house is now home to the Earth Conservation Corps, which is restoring the Anacostia River and improving the lives of at-risk youth in Washington, D.C. On May 27, 2015, it was the site of one of our community’s most important victories for clean water and one of the high points of my career in conservation.
A New Era of Clean Water Protection Begins
On that day last spring, sportsmen gathered with some of the most important D.C. water officials, small business leaders, and even one beer maker, to celebrate the signing of the final rule to improve Clean Water Act protection for trout streams and duck habitat. Once this decision is fully implemented, it will mean more cold clean water for anglers and fewer drained or polluted wetlands.
The fight for better clean water protection had been a long time coming, a battle that stretched back 15 years. And, to borrow from one of Theodore Roosevelt’s most famous speeches, some of the credit belongs to the sportsmen “in the arena” for this fight. You could see their fingerprints on the final product.
Ms. Sheppard Goes to Washington
Nearly a year later, I sat in an auditorium at the White House watching TRCP’s Mia Sheppard tell President Obama’s team why cold, clean streams are important to her, her family, and her livelihood as a fishing guide. Drought is hurting rivers in the West, including the Deschutes River, and its native redside trout, right in her backyard. She told the president about the Deschutes and found herself getting choked up as she told the crowd, “When fish lose, we lose.”
Mia came to the meeting armed with 20 recommendations developed by sportsmen that will make our rivers and streams more resilient to the effects of drought and our fish and habitat healthier as a result. By the end of the day, more than half of these recommendations were part of official government policy. Sportsmen again had gone into the arena and left their mark.
TRCP was formed in the belief that when sportsmen speak with one voice, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Four years ago, the TRCP began to focus on water resources with that same belief. Jim Martin, the retired conservation director at Pure Fishing and a TRCP champion, once said, “The most effective protections [for sustainable fisheries] are embodied in policy and…law.” Donning a suit and tie to walk the halls of Congress may not be as exciting as our days on the water or in a duck blind, but sportsmen must remain in the policy arena to protect what we love. The events at the White House and on the banks of the Anacostia River show how much we’ve accomplished already.
I came to TRCP at the beginning of this great chapter for our water resources, and I’ve seen the unique impact sportsmen can have on policy. As I prepare to move on to another conservation leader, The Nature Conservancy, I’ll be taking the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt with me, along with his words: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
After more than three years with the organization, I’m confident that sportsmen can count on the TRCP to do the right thing. So I move on to the next chapter in my conservation story believing that Roosevelt would be proud of what we’ve accomplished for water. It’s only the beginning.