Kim Rhode is a double trap and skeet shooter who made her debut in the 1996 Olympics where, at the age of 16, she became the youngest female gold medalist in the history of Olympic shooting. Since then she has medaled in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Earlier this year, Kim took some time to speak with the TRCP about shooting, hunting and her Olympic experiences.
What are some of your earliest experiences with shooting?
Kim: Shooting has been passed down from generation-to-generation in my family. My grandfather was a hounds-man and an avid outdoorsman. He taught my dad, my dad taught my mom and they eventually taught me.
So you were a hunter before you ever tried skeet, trap and sporting clays?
Kim: Oh yes! I was into hunting prior to any competition. I hunted birds, deer, bear; I even went on a hunting trip to Africa. I’ve always been very active in the outdoors. I also love fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead.
Growing up we were very active. Those are some of the best memories of mine. Sitting around the campfire with my grandfathers and uncles telling hunting stories like, ‘the deer was THIS big!’ It was just fantastic. I hope to share my passion for the outdoors with my kids one day.
What was the first gun you ever shot and what are you shooting now?
Kim: Wow, I don’t even remember the first gun I ever shot. I know that when I first started competing I was using a Remington 1100 youth model. Then I went to a Perazzi.
I was so small at the time that I had a hard time getting any type of gas-operated gun to fit me. They were always too big and I was fighting the gun. The fit of your gun is something that’s so important in shooting.
What’s your favorite thing to hunt?
Kim: I have to say some of the bigger game but bird hunting is awesome too. It is super fun and exciting, especially when I get to go out with my family and friends.
I would imagine there aren’t many missed birds…
Kim: Well anyone who says they don’t miss is a liar. Everybody misses; the trick is to not miss when it counts the most.
What are some of your views on conservation?
Kim: Living here in Los Angeles, there are so many people who are completely out of touch with the outdoors. They just don’t go out and appreciate the beauty that’s out there. They spend so much time on the computer or watching television that they totally miss looking around and taking in the beauty and splendor of nature. One issue I see with our youth today is the technology factor, trying to get them off the games and get them outside.
It’s really important that children understand the heritage and the conservation side of things because it goes hand in hand with hunting and the outdoors. Hunting is about tradition and passing something on just as much as it is about land management and conservation.
Can you tell us what it’s like to win a medal at the Olympics?
Kim: It’s really about the journey. It’s not about the gold, the silver, the bronze or anything like that. Of course that is a fantastic part of it but when you’re standing on the podium, watching the American flag go to the top of the pole, you aren’t thinking about the medal. You are thinking about all the experiences that got you there. The journey is what keeps me going back – overcoming obstacles, succeeding when people say you can’t and representing your country. It’s such an honor. I’m so blessed.
A self-proclaimed “native trout freak” Erica Stock has been working in the conservation arena for more than 10 years. Erica got her start on the water in Oregon where she fell in love with salmonids. She currently resides in Colorado with her daughter, Portland, and husband, Tim. When she’s not out bow hunting or fly fishing, Erica spends her time rallying for native trout restoration and habitat conservation projects throughout the west.
What are you up to right now?
I like to joke that I have two full-time jobs. I’m working as the outreach director for Colorado Trout Unlimited and the director of strategic partnerships for the Western Native Trout Initiative.
Why are you so passionate about native trout?
Native trout are majestic fish. Each one is distinct and beautiful. Once they are gone you can’t go into a lab, re-create them and put them back in a river somewhere.
Native fish have been reduced to such a small fraction of their historical range that some species have been lost all together. It would be a shame to see this trend continue, but, given all the threats faced by native trout, it is a very real possibility.
That’s where groups like WNTI and TU come in. Both of these organizations have been integral in uniting the community and developing the National Fish Habitat Action Plans. These plans give us a glimmer of hope.
Tell us a little bit about National Fish Habitat Action Plans.
These plans encourage collaboration between different state agencies, federal agencies, local partners and non-profit organizations that have an interest in fish conservation and management. These plans allow for much more progress than if all these groups were working separately.
Prior to the establishment of these plans, there was so much fragmentation and inefficiency. Everyone was out doing what they thought were the top priorities – using their own science or no science at all. NFHAPs provide a game plan so individuals and groups can work together toward the common goal of rebuilding some of these fish populations.
Tell us about what you do for TU.
I work with our grassroots; Trout Unlimited has 23 chapters and 10,000 individual members in Colorado. I work with these partners on some great native trout projects and projects that benefit local communities directly – regardless of whether there are native trout involved.
How did you get into fishing?
I was on the Deschutes River in northwestern Oregon doing invasive plant removal. We were just getting off the river for the day when I decided to pick up my friend’s fly rod. It was on an Orvis four-piece rod. I was immediately hooked.
What are some of the greatest threats faced by fish populations?
There are 15 native trout for which WNTI works. Seven of these are threatened and the remainder are species of concern. Development has degraded important habitat for a long period of time. The introduction of non-native species like rainbow and brown trout has caused serious competition between native and non-native species. These non-native fish will hybridize with the natives, destroying their genetic purity.
Climate change is another big threat to native trout. We need to make sure these fish are going to have habitat as the climate shifts. Fortunately these fish are in headwaters and roadless areas on public lands – and that’s no coincidence. The best hunting and fishing are found in roadless areas. We need to be sure these areas remain pristine and relatively untouched.
Growing up on the banks of the Yellowstone River in the trout-crazy town of Billings, Mont., Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion were primed for a life chasing salmonids with fly rods.
All three have decades of experience guiding in exotic locations about which most anglers can only dream. In 1995, Dan, the oldest of the Vermillion boys, abandoned his career as a lawyer to join his brothers and a small group of guides to form Sweetwater Travel, a fly fishing travel company specializing in delivering anglers to some of the world’s greatest waters.
Throughout the quest, which included countless exploratory trips that often resulted in dead ends, the Vermillion brothers recognized the need to be active in conserving the natural resources upon which their fishing operations rely. Whether advancing the Taimen Conservation Fund, formed by Sweetwater Travel to conserve Taimen populations in Mongolia, or working in British Columbia to prevent overfishing of steelhead, Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion are dedicated conservationists who take nothing for granted.
Dan Vermillion: “When you are lucky enough to make your living off of the bountiful natural resources that are found in places that are yet to be overly disturbed by a human presence, you feel a responsibility to keep those opportunities alive for generations in the future.”
One of the perks of being a fly fishing guide is the chance to meet some extraordinary people. In 2009 on his way to vacation in Yellowstone National Park, President Barack Obama stopped for a float trip down the East Gallatin River. Dan Vermillion served as his guide. Dan was presented with the rare opportunity to spend several hours fishing with the president of the United States – with no cameras or media present.
Were you able to do a little lobbying on behalf of sportsmen?
Dan Vermillion: “I didn’t really have to. Several times during the day we talked about water rights, we talked about water flows. He told me very clearly that he didn’t grow up hunting and fishing but that it is really important that we continue those traditions in the U.S. He said the key to those traditions lasting is caring for the resources that provide us with the ability to hunt and fish.”
Do you think he was genuine?
Dan Vermillion: “I do. I came away from my time with him feeling that he was the most genuine politician I have ever met, besides maybe Jon Tester. And I’ve met a lot of them.”
What do you see as the biggest threats to hunting, fishing and conservation?
Dan Vermillion: “I see two threats. The big threat, of course, is just the onward march of human beings to every corner of the planet. Unfortunately, whenever human beings seem to interact with a lot of these places that produce quality recreational opportunities for hunting and fishing, the hunting and fishing species tend to not do too well. But the reason that it is consistently allowed to happen is that the people that love to hunt and fish, with exceptions, of course, don’t tend to make decisions in the rest of their lives that are reflective of their dedication to hunting and fishing. They’ll go out and support politicians or they’ll support certain policies that ultimately undercut their ability to have quality hunting and fishing opportunities in their backyards; but they never put two and two together.”
The most pressing conservation issue in which the Vermillions have become engaged is the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Sweetwater Travel owns two lodges in Alaska that lie on either side of the proposed mine. Last month, Dan and Pat were among 40 sportsmen leaders from 17 states participating in a trip to Washington, D.C., to press Congress and the Obama administration to protect Bristol Bay and its unrivaled salmon fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine.
“Obviously it’s a potential threat to the businesses, but that’s not the main reason we’re backing this up,” said Pat Vermillion. “We’re backing this up more for the potential damage to the salmon runs.” The sportsmen delivered a letter to the Obama administration from more than 500 hunting and angling groups around the country who want the EPA to take action under the Clean Water Act to conserve Bristol Bay.
Dan Vermillion: “I think that Pebble Mine fly-in was one of the most impressive groups of people I’ve ever been around. As a group, we presented a compelling message, and that message was that Bristol Bay is far too important, not just to fishermen and hunters of the world, but also the native communities that live and have lived there for thousands of years. There’s no justification whatsoever for an open pit mine to be put smack dab in the middle of the last significant large sockeye salmon run.”
Pat Vermillion: “Pebble is something that will go through unless people are active and actively try and stop it. It’s way too big of a deposit. If people don’t stand up and get active and push, the mine is definitely going to happen. That’s what makes it such a compelling cause and one that needs to be recognized on a national basis.”
Dan Vermillion: “We took our message to the Hill, and I don’t think any of them felt that strongly that this mine has to go forward. And I think the same thing is true with Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA. Something she said really struck me, and I may not have it quite right. To paraphrase, she said that this discussion is not about always having the opportunity to fish for and experience the wild sockeye runs of Bristol Bay, but it’s about always having the ability to dream about going up there someday. Of critical importance is the simple fact that it’s out there and that makes our world a better place to live.” Learn more about the Vermillion brothers.Learn more about Save Bristol Bay.
Capt. Ryan Lambert Discusses Gulf Coast Restoration with the TRCP
The Senate transportation bill passed on March 8 includes as an amendment the RESTORE Act, an important measure that would bolster Gulf restoration efforts by directing 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines paid by BP to Gulf states. As the House deliberates the bill before a March 31 deadline, the fate of coastal Louisiana hangs in the balance. House passage of a transportation bill that includes the RESTORE Act would be a major victory for sportsmen-conservationists and stakeholders in southern Louisiana, including Capt. Ryan Lambert.
A southern Louisiana native, Lambert owns two lodges and has been guiding fishing and duck hunting trips in the area for more than 30 years. Lambert is very active in Gulf restoration efforts and has testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While the one-two punch of Hurricane Katrina (which left 24 feet of standing water in his lodge and put him out of business for nine months) and the oil spill devastated him on a personal level, Lambert is more concerned about wetland loss.
Levies and channelization built in the Gulf region after the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 has had a two-pronged negative effect on the Delta ecosystem. First, sediment no longer is able to collect around the mouth of the Mississippi, and, second, salt water is encroaching on exclusively freshwater ecosystems.
Channelization near the mouth of the Mississippi River increases the velocity at which the river enters the Gulf. As a result, sediment from spring flooding events that would normally collect in the marshes to give them structure now goes straight out into the Gulf. The combination of rising sea levels and a lack of marsh structure has lead to the vast and widespread disappearance of wetlands near the mouth of the Mississippi.
Lambert: “The land is subsiding. It’s sinking. And when it does so, there is nothing to replenish it like in years past. As [saltwater] intrudes into the fresh water, it kills trees and freshwater animals, and the soil just gets washed out.”
The Mississippi River Delta is losing its wetlands at a frightening rate – a football field every hour.
“Ninety-nine percent of the land and marshes in my area on the west side of the Mississippi River are gone. This is the worst erosion in the United States, maybe North America. It used to be 6.5 miles of marsh between me and the Gulf. Now there’s none. I could point my boat that way and never touch a piece of grass. It’s sickening to me because I know what that land produced. Even when I ride around near marshes that were my old stomping grounds growing up, it is so disheartening because now it’s all open water. It’s like a dagger in my heart when I see it.”
A number of shipping canals and channels cut directly through the marsh systems, allowing salt water to seep in, killing vegetation and disrupting the salinity balance that many species need to survive.
“It’s only a matter of time before the whole marsh system collapses. I think about my area and about all the wildlife we’ve lost. These were rich trapping grounds: otter, muskrat, mink, raccoon, deer, rabbits and millions of acres of habitat for waterfowl. All that’s gone. Where did those animals go? We lost all that and nobody says anything. If that happened somewhere else in the country or in the world, they would have more people there trying to fix it. I don’t understand why this never gets any attention. We lost millions and millions of furbearing animals and nobody’s said a word.”
TRCP: How much has the spill cost you and your business monetarily, and how much has BP paid you for your losses?
“So far its cost me over $2 million, and so far I’ve gotten $155,000 from BP. It’s gonna cost for a long time.”
TRCP: What was worse; the spill or Hurricane Katrina?
“Oh, the spill by far. Because I had to stay open to have a claim. So I stayed open all year with no business and kept my lodge open and paid my employees and all my cooks. You are legally obligated to mitigate your loss. If I just closed the door and didn’t wanna go fishing, I would have no claim. So I lost an additional $160,000 keeping my lodge open and paying my employees for no reason. I worked harder for less money than I ever did in my life.”
TRCP: How was your duck season this year, and how has the fishing been?
“My duck season was very, very good. There hasn’t been a speckled trout to speak of since last May. They are just depleted and going down, down, down. So I turned all my attention to my duck hunting operation. We were booked every day and killed 4,600 ducks, and it was just fabulous. But after that, we are dead in the water because there are no fish. Historically, my guides could go out and catch 1,000 speckled trout on a day with no wind. Ten boats would catch between 800 and 1,000 fish. Now we’re not catching any.”
TRCP: What would it mean for the Gulf if RESTORE were to pass?
“It’s no different than if you’re holding a person down and choking them and right before they die, you pull your hand off their throat. Boom! Instantly, they come back to life. I think it would do the same thing for Louisiana.”
In this issue of the Square Dealer, we are highlighting a TRCP friend and fellow sportsman, Scott Hed, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska. This article originally appeared in “The Drake” magazine and is written by Geoff Mueller.
Severed by North Dakota, the Saskatchewan plains, Alberta tar sands and British Columbia’s snow-covered Coast Mountains, Gaylord, Minn., is far removed from a proposed large-scale Alaskan mining operation and the toll it would take on anadromous fish runs. But it’s in Gaylord that Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska Director Scott Hed had lived a quintessential Midwestern life – playing football and baseball, hunting, fishing and anxiously awaiting annual pilgrimages to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area – before he started down a path to spearheading the 49th state’s highest-profile environmental standoff in recent memory.
Hed attended Minnesota’s St. Olaf College, where the aspiring economics and accounting major crunched, chewed and digested meaty numbers and the intricacies of gain, loss and risk. Money, it was clear to Hed, made the world spin. And while Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was hitting pay dirt in the late ’80s, an aspiring Bud Fox was born.
“When ‘Wall Street’ came out I was going to school, getting my degree in economics, and I’m thinking, ‘this is sweet, this is what I want to do,’” Hed says. After graduation, he landed in Marshall, Minn., working in the finance industry. It wasn’t quite fast cars and fast women, but it was a respectable living that allowed Hed to taste the nine-to-five grind. When his branch expanded to Sioux Falls, S.D., Hed followed. It was a busy few years of work and relocation, ascending the corporate escalator, and dreaming of someplace else: Alaska.
Fantasizing about The Last Frontier is a popular office antidote for desk-bound outdoorsmen the world over. But with Hed, it sparked his imagination. Next to work and family life, Alaska became Hed’s top distraction. He acquainted himself with the state as a wide-eyed tourist, exploring Denali and the Kenai Peninsula, returning again and again.
“I’d always been good at what I did, and I got paid well to do it,” Hed says. “But I wasn’t able to get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, ‘I really have a passion for, and care about, what I’m going to do at work today.’”
Hed’s next move came when his Sioux Falls office went bust and handed him a serendipitous10-month severance package. As Bud Fox states, “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.”
Hed took the cue and headed north to the coast of the Arctic Ocean for a month-long raft trip under a midnight sun. A timely and fortuitous soul cleanse, the trip also opened a door when, upon returning home that summer, a message on the answering machine awaited. It was the Alaska Coalition, with an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., and speak on behalf of Alaska as a citizen lobbyist.
“It sounded extremely daunting,” Hed says. But he was sold on the message; so much so that one month later he donned a suit and tie, marched up the stairs on Capitol Hill, and let the words pour. D.C. led to more public presentations, touring the upper Midwest for the Coalition and defending the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling and development.
Hed spoke to whomever had an open ear: church groups, bird gazers, garden hosers, and hunting and fishing advocates from all walks of life. He shined in his new capacity, receiving an expanded territory and a full-time paycheck. Life was good, and the gig was rewarding – even easy, considering Alaska’s broad appeal. But black clouds were brewing, with whispers of something massive on the horizon: “This thing called Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay,” Hed says.
The year was 2006, well before the word “Pebble” had become emblematic of a cancer so big it could devour two of the most prolific sockeye-bearing rivers in the world: the Kvichak and Nushagak. Located at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Pebble would be the largest gold and copper mine ever built in North America—a gaping open pit, miles wide and several thousand feet deep. If developed, resulting toxins could threaten not only the area’s salmon runs but also the health of an entire ecosystem. Six years after Hed began tunneling for answers to life’s proverbial questions, he found his calling in the form of a ticking ecological time bomb.
In October, Hed was at the Jet Hotel in Denver’s trendy LoDo district – a hipster receptacle with a full-service bar in the lobby and heavily promoting a Playboy-sponsored “Fantasy Hotel Party.” Dressed in a “Save Bristol Bay” ball cap, muted fleece and jeans, he was quick to explain he was there for the fight, not the party.
The Save Bristol Bay Road Show had just closed curtains in Seattle, Portland, Corvallis, San Francisco and Santa Fe. After Denver, the grassroots outreach and advocacy effort would hold one last private event in New York City, but the drain of a multi-city slog was not evident in Hed’s demeanor. Upbeat, gregarious, and less slickster D.C. lobbyist than one might expect, the cautiously optimistic Midwesterner says we are now entering decision-making time in the Pebble Mine slugfest. In February 2011, the EPA announced the beginning of its watershed assessment for the region, investigating ecological, cultural and economic values related to the Kvichak and Nushagak and the potential risks brought forth by large-scale mineral development there. Essentially, if a project like Pebble is deemed detrimental to (a) municipal water supplies, (b) fisheries, (c) wildlife or (d) recreational interests, the EPA under the Clean Water Act holds the power to tank it.
The good news, according to the anti-mine movement, is that the EPA’s decision, slated for fall 2012, is a relative no-brainer. “In the case of Bristol Bay,” Hed says, “It’s easy to argue that all four criteria would be adversely impacted by Pebble or any large-scale mineral developments.” (There are currently 1,000 square miles of claims in the region, in addition to Pebble’s.)
But the reality is that the EPA taking that level of action under the Clean Water Act would be unprecedented and would undoubtedly lead to lawsuits from deep-pocketed developers as well as the heavily pro-development state of Alaska.
Ultimately, Pebble Mine might go down as one of the greatest fisheries conservation victories of our time, thanks in large part to people like Hed. Or, as the scrappy Midwestern economics major put it: “If the world’s largest wild salmon fishery and one of the planet’s top sport-fishing and hunting destinations could be lost to something like Pebble, then everything is on the table.”