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TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation
Hometown: Bend, Ore.
Occupation: Owner of Oregon Pack Works
Conservation credentials: Conservation Director, Oregon Hunters Association
Born and raised in eastern Oregon, Karl is a retired paramedic and worked as a professional firefighter for more than 37 years. In 2010, he co-founded Oregon Pack Works, a manufacturer of hunting-specific backpacks and binocular harnesses designed to offer the type of versatility required for backcountry experiences. Karl currently serves as conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, a 10,000+ member non-profit organization dedicated to “protecting Oregon’s wildlife, habitat and hunting heritage.”
Here is his story.
I grew up the son of an outdoorsman in far eastern Oregon. My father was a gunsmith and boat-builder.
My hometown was perfectly situated at a confluence of four rivers, between the mountains and the high desert, where outdoor adventures were found at every direction of the compass.
Since the age of nine, I followed many relatives afield to fish, camp, and hunt, or to gather berries and mushrooms, often on scouting trips. These experiences were all made possible by the vast public lands and many waterways just out my backdoor. It was the perfect place to grow up.
In the 50 years since, those opportunities have declined in my home state of Oregon. I’ve witnessed the loss of large tracts of habitat for upland birds, mule deer, and the greater sage grouse, as well as a collection of tributaries that were once great trout fisheries. Time is running out for many of our waterways and landscapes, and for the flora and fauna that we love. Human impacts from population growth, urbanization, the overuse and abuse of our public lands, and a huge number of other threats mean that our hunting heritage could disappear.
When I was young, I used to think that conservation was for someone else to handle. I learned in my mid-20s, however, that there weren’t enough of us doing conservation work. Hunters and anglers must do more than purchase licenses, fly rods, and ammunition to fund our state fish and game agencies. We each must give back to the land—whether with our money, our time, or both—to restore the things lost in the places we love.
In 2002, I was lucky enough to experience a DIY caribou hunting float trip down a major river on Alaska’s North Slope, just adjacent to the National Petroleum Reserve. It was a cherished experience with friends both new and old, full of fabulous wildlife encounters, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
These two weeks opened my eyes to the immensity of true wilderness, and also to the fragility of this incredible ecosystem, which is changing quickly. There are very few places like that left on earth, and the wildlife, landscape, and pristine waterways there should be protected.
The biggest challenge facing us as conservationists is educating people about the realities of climate change. It threatens to alter or eliminate the things that bring us joy as hunters and anglers. We cannot afford to take what we have today for granted.
Opening people’s eyes to their impacts on our natural resources, no matter how small, requires constant effort. Whether that means explaining how travel management plans and seasonal road closures benefit our fish and wildlife or teaching the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, spreading this message is critical if we hope to leave what we love better than we found it.
Instilling this conservation mindset is what fuels my work. I hope that by sharing these ethics we can restore what has been lost, protect our landscapes and waterways, and pass along our sporting and hunting heritage to the next generation.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a questionnaire.
Western states take another important step toward stabilizing the Colorado River
The Colorado River Basin produces most of the nation’s winter vegetables, is home to ten national parks, and boasts millions of acres of wildlife habitat, where deer and antelope play, ducks fly, and fish rise. But years of drought have drained Lakes Mead and Powell—the big reservoirs in the basin—to less than half full.
A single wet year is not a long-term solution for a river system that is already way over-subscribed. Scientists predict the basin’s future will likely be hotter and, therefore, drier than its past.
The basin states just signed a drought contingency plan for the next seven years that will almost certainly require real reductions in water use, and this could be painful for those who will have to turn off their spigots.
But, first, here’s how we got to this momentous deal.
Exactly how to share limited water resources in the Colorado River Basin has been a debate for decades, almost since the states signed their original compact in 1922. (Many court cases followed.) In the 1930s, Arizona actually formed its own navy to defend its share of the river from California. In the ‘60s, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in. Meanwhile, as cities and farms in the basin grew and prospered, parts of the natural landscape suffered. By the 1990s the Colorado had stopped flowing all the way to the sea most years.
That same decade, most parties laid down their arms (and their lawyers) and decided to try working together. They extended the table to make room for outdoor recreationists and others, from high country skiers and Grand Canyon rafters to hunters and anglers. This group of diverse stakeholders started to negotiate agreements on how the Colorado’s waters would be used.
Three years in the making, the drought contingency plan signed last week is the most recent of these agreements. Now, Congress will have to pass legislation to implement it.
As big a deal as the plan is, it is not without controversy, and it is not the final chapter. It does not solve all the river’s problems, but it is a bridge to get all parties safely to the year 2026, by which point the basin states must negotiate another round of water-use reductions. The good news is that almost everyone is still sitting at the table, proving wrong (for now) Mark Twain’s old adage that whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.
As just one small party in these negotiations, the TRCP is working hard to ensure that one of the benefits is better fishing opportunities.
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Mining the base of the food chain is neither sustainable nor economically justifiable
Today, three recreational fishing groups filed a formal objection against the Marine Stewardship Council’s recommendation that Omega Protein should receive a certification of sustainability for its U.S. Atlantic menhaden purse-seining operations. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association signed onto the objection, filed with MSC’s leaders in the United Kingdom.
The industrial harvest of this important forage fish by a single foreign-owned company, Cooke Inc.’s Omega Protein, has a negative impact on striped bass and other sportfish that rely on menhaden for food. Earlier this month, MSC—a private international organization, not a government entity—signaled that it would likely put its stamp of approval on Omega’s menhaden reduction fishing operation, in which the oily baitfish is harvested and reduced into meal, pet food, and other products.
MSC reached this conclusion in spite of the fact that menhaden stocks are less than half of what they would be without industrial harvest, which currently suppresses the striped bass stocks on the East Coast by about 30 percent. Striped bass are the single most valuable marine recreational fishery in the country.
“This certification would put a blue ribbon on the practice of robbing sportfish of their forage base, even as striped bass numbers decline in the Atlantic,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. His organization collaborated with a legal team to object to MSC’s findings and rallied individual anglers to sign an open letter opposing the certification. “We felt it was important to put pressure on MSC, in every venue possible, not to do this. It is irresponsible to call Omega’s operation sustainable when it affects striped bass numbers and the recreational fishing economy.”
MSC’s published assessment indicates that the certification of sustainability would be granted on the condition that Omega reach certain milestones over four years—not because the operation can be considered sustainable now. Sportfishing groups objected to the rationale behind two of these conditions and the MSC’s overall method of assessing the stock’s status.
“The MSC certification undermines ten years of work by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to establish ecosystem reference points for Atlantic menhaden, a process expected to be concluded in the next year,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “For sportfishing businesses on the East Coast, the stakes are very high going into the striped bass season. Menhaden are an important food source for striped bass, and the latest striped bass stock assessment shows a continued decline in spawning stock biomass. This is the worst possible time for MSC to make a misstep like this.”
“In Maryland, anglers are concerned with the health and future outlook for many different recreational fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast, and menhaden are a major piece of the ecological foundation and balance in the region,” says David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland. “This is why we anxiously await management options to be unveiled after nearly 20 years of conversation on how to manage these important fish for their role in the ecosystem. It would be negligent for MSC to hand out its certification just as the game is about to change.”
Top photo by Stephan Lowy
When there’s not enough bunker left in the water to support striped bass, can you really call commercial harvest of these forage fish sustainable?
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More