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An organization that provides all-expenses-paid flyfishing trips to combat veterans ensures that participants go home with so much more than campfire stories
With the inspiring success of organizations like Project Healing Waters and Casting for Recovery, many sportsmen and women are aware of the emotional and physical healing power of the outdoors. But when Dan Cook, formerly a financial executive, set out to establish Rivers of Recovery in 2009, he wanted to prove that the act of fly fishing—not to mention the camaraderie of bringing veterans together in remote and beautiful places—actually made a biological impact on returning military service members.
“They analyzed urine and saliva samples from the program participants before, during, and in the 6, 9, and 12 months after a fishing trip,” says Amy Simon, who started out as a Rivers of Recovery volunteer before running the organization with Cook and eventually stepping into the executive director position in charge of all operations and program curriculum. “The tests showed lower cortisol levels after fishing, and the participants reported sleeping better, having lower stress, and, in some cases, going off medications they’d relied on for their mental health. Dan really wanted to go beyond starting an organization and actually prove we were making a difference.”
Thirty veterans took part in their first trip out of Dutch John, Utah, and these days the organization runs programs in eight different states, touching countless lives in the process. Over time, they discovered that building an experience within an existing community of local veterans was very beneficial, compared to flying a group out to Utah. This way, relationships could be built and maintained after the trip, and supportive local businesses, fishing guides, yoga instructors, and other volunteers remained in the participants’ community as resources.
“We found we could leave behind a footprint of support,” says Simon.
She was also instrumental in launching RoR’s first trips exclusively for female veterans, who may be dealing with entirely different issues than men when they return home. In the October 2017 issue of DUN Magazine, U.S. Army veteran Monica Shoneff explained, “A lot of female vets get out of the military and jump back into caring for a family. Self-care becomes a low priority. Where men can focus on themselves, we get lost.”
Now an RoR volunteer, Shoneff estimates that 95 percent of the women combat veterans she’s met have experienced sexual trauma during their military careers, leaving many to deal with anxiety, depression, and high rates of PTSD.
So, how does an all-expenses-paid flyfishing excursion help? “You have to focus on what you’re doing,” she tells DUN. “It takes away from time to ruminate and think about past events or worry about the future.” Simon adds that the activities on the water and in camp start to generate trust, bring vets out of their guarded stance, and open lines of communication. “By the time you leave, you feel like you’re part of a family,” she says.
In many cases, none of this would be possible without public lands, says Simon, so conservation and the healing power of the outdoors go hand in hand. “If those resources were not available, we would not be able to succeed,” she says. “How can you not want to take care of these places that give so much to someone like a wounded veteran?”
Another active volunteer and RoR Board member, Jim Mayol, says he sees public lands issues differently now that he’s witnessed the transformation of program participants. “I see them before the trip, after, and in social settings, and there’s no doubt that the outdoors has had an impact on their healing,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer for me to advocate for these places now, where I may not have given it a lot of thought before.”
To learn more about Rivers of Recovery and how you can get involved, visit riversofrecovery.org.
All photos courtesy of Rivers of Recovery.
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: Leicester, North Carolina
Occupation: Soil and water conservation district director
Conservation credentials: Helps landowners use Farm Bill conservation programs to improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat
When you’ve idolized legends like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone since childhood, chasing adventure through our public lands might be enough of a goal. Tyler Ross takes dedication to the outdoors one step further. His day job helps bring Farm Bill conservation programs off the pages of the Federal Register and onto the working lands of his home state so that fish and wildlife resources are just as legendary for the next generation.
Here is his story.
I did a lot of reading when I was younger, and all my heroes from books either hunted, fished, or farmed. I wanted to be with Davy Crockett on a bear hunt or walking next to Daniel Boone as he stalked a deer in Kentucky. So, naturally, I started getting outside and chasing whatever I could.
These days, that’s still my idea of a good time. Even though I know it isn’t possible, I would love to bowhunt red stag in Scotland or Ireland—even better if it was with a recurve. I bet it would feel like I was part of Robin Hood’s Merry Men in Sherwood Forest, chasing that beast in its native habitat.
This past year, I went with my four best friends on our very first DIY elk hunt out West. I called in two different bulls for my buddies, and one ended in a successful harvest. That time with them, in that area, enjoying our Creator’s bounty, is something that I know will be unmatched for the rest of my life.
In my area, Farm Bill conservation programs benefit sportsmen and women in many ways. On the public land side, the recent expansion and utilization of Good Neighbor Authority helps keep public lands in public hands and gives land managers the tools to conserve these places for those who come after us.
On the private lands side, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is really helpful for increasing wildlife habitat and pollinators. We don’t have many Conservation Reserve Program acres in North Carolina, so EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program provide many of the habitat benefits here.
We had some big wins in the latest Farm Bill, particularly with EQIP. Lawmakers increased the portion of the program that must be used for practices that benefit wildlife from 5 percent of funds to 10 percent. That’s huge!
It was also awesome to see soil health practices embraced in multiple programs. And the expansion and re-authorization of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program on U.S. Forest Service lands is something that I hope continues in future farm bills.
During implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, I would love to see an emphasis on Working Lands for Wildlife, the USDA’s effort to improve agricultural and forest productivity while enhancing wildlife habitat on working landscapes.
It would also be great if the Forest Service and NRCS would work alongside state agencies to focus on species cited in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan. I think this would be a great place for multiple stakeholders to come in and work together to put strategic conservation on the ground.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a questionnaire.
The key to understanding the threat of CWD is learning more about the particles that cause it
My home in Wisconsin is less than 20 miles away from the detection site of the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease east of the Mississippi River in 2002. Michigan State University, where I attend school, is within the same proximity of the first detected case in the state of Michigan. It is safe to say that this disease has been in my backyard for most of my life.
As the disease spreads across the country, more and more hunters are finding CWD in their backyards, too. And while its name is increasingly familiar among sportsmen and women, CWD still remains a source of confusion for many.
Much of this confusion pertains to the small particles that cause it, known as prions. Although we commonly associate transmissible diseases with viruses and bacteria, prions are neither. Nor are they Fungi. They are not even alive.
So just what are these things, how do they spread, and why should we be worried about them?
The term “prion” is derived from “proteinaceous infectious particle,” and it was coined in 1982 by Stanley B. Prusiner of the University Of California San Francisco. In the United States, it is commonly pronounced PREE-on, while in the U.K. it is usually said PRY-on.
In short, prions are malformed proteins. Like other proteins, they are made up of complex chains of amino acids and exist in the membranes of many normal cells. Many forms of prions are not harmful, but certain prions can be highly destructive when they accumulate in the brain or other nervous tissues of an organism.
As prions do not have their own genetic information, they cannot reproduce independently, like bacteria, or through a host cell, like a virus. Prion molecules are dangerous because they “reproduce” by denaturing the normal proteins that are in close proximity to them. This process both facilitates the spread of the disease through the body and can cause the degradation of nervous tissue.
Prion-caused diseases, CWD among them, form holes in the brains of affected organisms and are known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, or TSEs—a very technical name for diseases that affects the brain (Encephalo = brain; pathy = disorder) by causing nervous tissue to become porous (spongiform = sponge-like), and can be spread from one individual to another (transmissible). These neurodegenerative disorders exhibit a comparatively long incubation period, are fatal in all circumstances, and include “Mad Cow” disease in bovid species, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Because they are not alive, prions cannot be killed. The collection of amino acid molecules comprising a prion must be chemically denatured to lose their detrimental capabilities. As a result, prions are incredibly resilient to change–exposure of up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit will not deform the proteins—and can remain in a given environment for long periods of time.
In a deer infected with the disease, prions may be found in diverse body fluids and tissues, but particularly those relating to the nervous system. Bodily contact, urine, feces, and saliva can all serve as transmission vectors. In addition, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that prions can also be present in and spread through environmental vectors, including soil columns and waterways.
It is important to consider the epidemiology of CWD when comparing it to other threats against whitetail herds. Due to the nature of this disease, it can take years of prion buildup for a deer to exhibit symptoms of CWD such as weight loss, stumbling, lethargy, and other neurological conditions, whereas viral diseases like EHD (Epizootic hemorrhagic disease) can be evident after only seven days. This is one reason why hunters do not often find heaps of deer carcasses in the field from CWD, but see mass die-offs from EHD more often. However, this does not mean that CWD is not harmful. In fact, this feature makes CWD more insidious because it is more difficult to detect early infections.
While there has never been a recorded case of cervid-human transmission, the Center for Disease Control advises against eating meat from infected individuals. As early as 1997, the World Health Organization recommended that known agents of prion diseases be kept out of the food chain. Recent research suggests that CWD could be transmissible to primates, but this has only been studied on Cynomolgus Macaques and was a single, limited study.
The nature of this disease, especially the rapid transmission and longevity of prions, makes CWD the biggest threat to herds of whitetail, mule deer, elk, and moose populations. If hunters and conservationists hope to successfully combat this disease, it will be important to support wildlife professionals and scientists in their research efforts to learn more about prions and how to appropriately address their effect.
This was originally posted July 13, 2018 and has been updated.
44 groups offer input as lawmakers craft infrastructure legislation
“A paradigm shift.” That’s what 44 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups are calling for as lawmakers begin drafting infrastructure legislation.
With the current Highway Bill expiring in 2020, these organizations are asking Congress to invest in natural infrastructure, recreational access, improved permitting, and fish and wildlife habitat connectivity as lawmakers address resilient highway systems and federal roads.
“Improvements to our road systems can benefit wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access, rather than detract from them,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “And now is the perfect time for Congress to invest in lasting solutions for our fish, wildlife, and outdoor way of life. Hunters and anglers are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with lawmakers to draft legislation that takes a holistic approach to infrastructure.”
“The Association is supportive of this legislation that is offering states the opportunity to increase their conservation efforts of fish and wildlife,” said Ron Regan, executive director for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “The next Highway Bill will reauthorize funds that are the backbone of great fisheries management and conservation work, as well as access for boating and fishing that is provided by state fish and wildlife agencies across the country.”
“Collisions with vehicles and severed migratory movements are two key issues impacting mule deer and other big game species that need to be addressed in the next transportation bill,” said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “The states need dedicated funding to ensure wildlife crossings are a priority in the future and not simply a ‘nice to have’ project if extra funds are available.”
“Conservation of our lands, waters, and wildlife is essential to our economy and well-being, so decisions about how to answer challenges like our highway infrastructure should include nature-based solutions,” said Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations at The Nature Conservancy. “For example, enlarging culverts to allow for increased flow of water during extreme rain events not only saves money by preventing future road and bridge damage, but also enhances wildlife and fish habitat. Solutions like these are cost-effective investments that generate impressive returns for all Americans, and we urge Congress to make those investments in the upcoming highway bill.”
“Forest roads are essential to get us to the places we like to fish, but if they’re not properly designed and maintained, they can harm fisheries by causing sedimentation and habitat fragmentation,” said Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “That’s why the transportation bill and programs like Legacy Roads and Trails are so important to anglers. National forests provide some of our best trout habitat, and Legacy Roads and Trails has provided funds that can be leveraged with other sources to right-size our road system and reconnect hundreds of miles of trout streams.”
“Transportation infrastructure on the National Wildlife Refuge System, including roads, trails, and bridges, is critical to providing the American people with safe access to their public lands and waters,” said Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “The 2020 Transportation Bill’s inclusion of funding for the Refuge System to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure is critical to the 53 million annual refuge visitors and their recreational needs. Creating proper wildlife crossings and signage will also protect people and wildlife from vehicular collisions.”
“We welcome Congress’s steadfast commitment to passing a robust highway reauthorization bill in 2020 and encourage them to seize the opportunity by including a ‘Recreation Title’ in a comprehensive infrastructure package this year,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Outdoor recreation is a significant part of the U.S. economy—contributing 2.2 percent of the U.S. GDP and supporting 4.5 million American jobs—and it behooves lawmakers to put our industry front and center in any infrastructure-related debate.”
“Conservation lands—and the stewards of those lands—are impacted by transportation and public works projects in profound and often overlooked ways,” said Ben Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “We appreciate the attention of our conservation partners and leaders in Congress to address such issues as promoting nature-based, resilient transportation systems and taking a needs-based assessment to funding road maintenance for our national forests and other lands.”
“As we continue to learn more about big game migration corridors and related barriers, it is imperative that we better integrate infrastructure planning with our wildlife connectivity needs,” said Dan Forster, vice president and chief conservation officer of the Archery Trade Association. “We are very excited to see improved integration efforts manifest themselves through these ongoing efforts.”
“Transportation systems are important in many ways to our human qualities of life, as are the natural landscapes through which these corridors occur,” said Tom Logan, chairman of the Board for Fly Fishers International. “Both values can only be assured, though, if future transportation planning considers the biological function and value of the nation’s land, water, fish, and wildlife. The 2020 transportation bill provides an excellent opportunity to establish smart environmental planning as the standard for protecting our public lands and waters, while maintaining our nation’s transportation systems.”
“Lack of habitat connectivity and water quality are two of the largest problems impacting fish species right now, and this includes popular recreational species and imperiled species alike,” said Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “However, small investments in better road design can pay big dividends for both fish and people by providing better flood prevention, reconnected stream habitats, and improved durability for extreme weather events, especially for road-stream crossings.”
Top photo by USFWS Midwest Region
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