Please take a few minutes to read what follows to the end, and share it as far and wide as you can. Our thanks to Chris Wood–president and chief executive of Trout Unlimited, which needs and deserves our support for exactly the reason stated below–for writing, and the New York Times for publishing this clear statement:
THE eastern brook trout, whose native haunts in the Appalachians are a short drive from my home in Washington, is a fragile species. It requires the coldest and cleanest water to survive, and over the past two centuries, its ranks have been decimated by all that modern society could throw at it. Today it lives in a fraction of its historic range.
One reason? Thousands of miles of prime brook trout streams have been polluted by poorly regulated historic coal mining, and what has been lost is difficult to bring back. Groups like Trout Unlimited have worked with partners to restore more than 60 miles of wild trout streams damaged by acid mine drainage in Appalachia. But it is hard, painstaking work — it has taken the better part of two decades and millions of dollars, and the fact is that it would take many lifetimes to revive all the streams in need of resuscitation.
I had that sobering math in mind last week when I learned that Congress had voted to overturn the Stream Protection Rule, designed to protect streams from the devastating effects of mountaintop removal mining. This tactic is every bit as destructive as it sounds. It involves scraping off the tops of mountains, removing the coal and then dumping the waste in valleys and the creeks that pass through them.
Over the past 20 years, these mining operations have buried or degraded nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia. It goes without saying that cutting the tops off mountains and dumping them in streams is bad for fishing. It is also bad for anyone who cares about clean water.
Which brings me to President Trump, who in an interview after the election said that “clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important.” The president is correct, and now he can take a first step toward protecting our water resources — and incidentally, earn a place as a conservation champion in the eyes of the nation’s hunters and anglers — by vetoing Congress’s misguided vote to roll back stream protection.
Our argument is simple. If we at Trout Unlimited have learned anything from our years of on-the-water restoration experience, it is this: Smartly regulating mountaintop removal mining at the outset is a lot more cost-effective than trying to repair streams from the ravages of acid mine drainage caused by mining.
But if protecting clean water is the goal in the new administration, a veto of Congress’s attempt to reverse the Stream Protection Rule can be only a first step.
Anglers are alarmed that the president and his allies in Congress may also want to overturn the Clean Water Rule. Finalized in 2015 after a decade of study and work, the rule re-establishes the protections of small seasonal streams under the Clean Water Act — safeguards that existed for the first 30 years of the law, before court rulings created confusion about the extent of the government’s authority. It protects the sources of drinking water for one in three Americans, and the small streams that provide habitat and shelter for fish and wildlife.
If the Clean Water rule is abandoned, nearly 60 percent of the stream miles in the United States could lose crucial protections afforded by the Clean Water Act, which eliminates direct discharges into rivers and requires permits for construction activities that affect the health of our waters.
It is vital that Congress and the president allow this common-sense rule to stand. Clean water is not a political issue. Our elected leaders should not treat it like one.
At the same time, some places are so special that they deserve even greater protection, and Alaska’s Bristol Bay is one of them. Nearly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon come from the Bristol Bay watershed, and one of the rivers that drain into the bay, the Nushagak, is among the largest producers of wild chinook salmon.
But a Canadian mining company proposes to build an enormous open-pit gold and copper mine in this region, and hopes to have the new president in its corner.
To build such an immense mine in such a remote part of Alaska would lead to the industrialization of a spectacular landscape and threaten a commercial fishing industry that supports 14,000 jobs and adds an estimated $1.5 billion to the economy. This issue is hugely important to sport fishers, and President Trump should make it immediately clear that he wants Bristol Bay protected from industrial-scale mining.
Nationally, sport fishing helps support more than 800,000 jobs, and the more than 30 million people who participate spend close to $50 billion annually on equipment, licenses, trips and other fishing-related items or events. Whether you fish for wild brook trout in the Appalachians, target salmon in Alaska or simply like to take your child fishing on small streams near your home, sportsmen and sportswomen need to stand up and demand that our elected leaders protect the clean water and healthy habitats upon which we all depend.
I sincerely hope that President Trump will demonstrate his concern for clean water and that the members of Congress will prove that they were not simply pandering to America’s 45 million sportsmen and sportswomen during the election, only to ignore our concerns in the new term.
Something else I’ve learned from experience: We don’t just spend money in big numbers. We also vote.