January 27, 2011 in Fishing Guide Interviews
How did you get involved with Trout Unlimited?
My first encounter with TU happened while I was a crew leader in the Youth Conservation Corps in Central Oregon. We had a project that involved going into some of the larger ranches around the Crooked River in late fall and electroshocking trout that were trapped in irrigation canals. We returned hundreds of trout to the Crooked. The crew (mostly high school dropouts) loved the project, and the TU members involved were very dynamic folks who could tell good stories and keep the crew laughing. Years later I was in a Chicago pizza place and spotted a TU hat on the guy sitting next to me at the bar. The guy turned out to be Dave Rogers, who worked at the main TU office in Arlington. Over the next couple of years Dave and I became good friends, and we would scheme up ways that we were going to get young folks involved in TU’s mission. I was the Dean of a college service-learning program and helped TU do some visioning work around its youth programs. I also led groups of college volunteer groups to TU’s Potomac headwaters and Southeast Alaska programs. When TU announced in early 2009 that they were going to take their youth program to the next level by hiring a full-time Director, I jumped at the chance. I don’t know of many jobs that are based upon connecting kids, teens, and college students with fly fishing, conservation, and the great outdoors.
1. What is the average age of a Trout Unlimited member?
Between 60 and 65 years old
2. What is T.U doing to bring the younger generation into the sport?
TU has established a program called the Headwaters Youth Initiative that includes a youth membership and opportunities for ages 7-22 to get involved with fly fishing and conservation of streams and rivers. We are running conservation camps, the Trout in the Classroom program, and a college outreach effort called 5 Rivers.
3. Do you feel the Fly Fishing Industry is doing enough to promote the sport?
Yes, I think so, especially with the help of the magazine industry, which has opened up a whole new side of the sport. Some of gear makers seem stuck a little in old school mode, which might hurt their biz with the next generation. My overall sense is that very few folks on the industry side would not reach out and help non-profits like TU if they had resources to do so. Of course, given our economy, those resources are getting stretched thinner and thinner.
4. What is your organizations biggest struggle?
In my humble opinion, TU’s biggest struggle is to attract and keep a diverse base of active members, both young and old, male and female. The current chapter structure is not appealing to many folks due to work, family, other obligations.
5. Tell us about your youth programs and the response that comes with them.
I hope that folks take a look at the various youth programs and find some place to get connected. We are trying to work with middle and high schoolers, plus college students as well. A lot of these young folks need instruction in both angling and fly tying, and they would benefit greatly from volunteering to restore an impaired stream. Hopefully, the typical TU volunteer looks at this array of ages and is compelled to work with one. It takes just one committed person within a TU chapter to get other members involved.
6. What fisheries do you think are facing the greatest threat?
The Bristol Bay salmon fishery is one of the most imperiled right now due to the large scale mine that’s proposed there. It has been both inspiring and amazing to see the coalition of concerned anglers, businesses, scientists, non-profits, and locals get together to fight the mine.
Beyond Bristol Bay, the steady increase of salmon farms are also having negative affects on native fish. Despite industry’s claims to the contrary, farmed fish are escaping the farms and mixing with wild runs. Poor genetics and parasites are not something many native salmon can tolerate, yet that’s exactly what these farmed fugitives bring with them. To add fuel to this fire, the FDA is considering a proposal to allow farms to raise genetically-modified salmon. TU’s Why Wild program is directly addressing these threats by raising consumer awareness and promoting sustainable harvest of wild fish.
Beyond Pacific salmon, far too many populations of wild fish around the globe are either being over harvested or threatened by some dimension of human overpopulation, including climate change and habitat destruction. The list is very long.
7. What has been T.U.’s greatest accomplishment to date?
TU’s regional conservation efforts are undoubtedly among its greatest accomplishments. Programs such as the Home Rivers Initiative (HRI) have masterfully combined the expertise of a TU staff member with the energy and passion of TU volunteers, and nearly 30 rivers and streams have been restored as a result. All of TU’s field work is backed up by the Conservation Success Index (CSI), which was created by TU’s science staff. The CSI integrates population data from various assessments completed by state and federal agencies with spatial data on habitat and threats gathered by TU scientists to create a common analytical framework applicable to all coldwater fishes.