Last fall, I was invited by the government of New South Wales to come to Australia a week or so prior to the Australian National Recreational Fishing Conference to tour the region and speak to anglers and angling clubs on a tour of the eastern Australian state about the conservation work we do at TU.
Of course, it was an invitation I couldn’t refuse.
Now, nine months later, here I am, wandering aimlessly around Sydney getting ready for a week of travel where I’ll get the chance to share the TU story with Aussie anglers. As requested by Craig Copeland, the manager of the Conservation Action Unit of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, I’m to explain to anglers and conservationists here in Australia why we do habitat protection and rehabilitation work in the U.S.
At first, I thought, the request was a no-brainer. We could fill a phone book with our list of accomplishments since TU was founded more than 50 years ago–the sheer volume of success stories is mind-boggling.
But, I reminded myself, the work is actually secondary, at least in the eyes of these folks. I need to explain why we do what we do.
When I started working for TU in 2005 as the communications director for the Public Lands Initiative (it’s now called the Sportsmen’s Conservation Project), I was a fresh escapee from the newspaper business–I left the Idaho State Journal as its managing editor, and it was the first time in my life that I took a job, not because I was “moving up,” but because it was an opportunity to work on issues that really, truly mattered to me.
I’d been a newspaper reporter and editor for 15 years, but over the course of my career–whether on purpose or by accident–I never lived very far from a trout stream. I was a passionate fly fisherman and as involved as an objective journalist could be in my local TU chapter. When my job at TU came open, I made a decision right then and there to throw every ounce of energy into getting it. I was ready to work for what I believed in.
I got lucky, and TU’s Chris Wood, then the vice president for conservation, hired me.
I was thrust into a relatively new program at TU, and my hiring coincided with the hiring of a number of people that, over the years, have become not only my respected colleagues, but some of my very best friends. It became evident to me that they came to work for TU for the same reason I did–they believed in the work they were doing (and still do), and recognized the opportunity to make a difference on behalf of trout and salmon, wild places and the chance to, even briefly, feel connected to a wild fish on a tight line.
I know why I do what I do. And, throughout the TU family, I know why the vast majority of my fellow TU employees do what they do. But how do I explain the passion for fish and fishing I and my fellow staffers possess to a country of strangers half a world away?
For me, my message is simple. My ability to wander away from the road into the backcountry and cast to wild trout requires everything to come together just right. It requires cold, clean water. It requires connectivity and sinuosity. It requires snow in the winter, shade in the summer and a healthy population of aquatic insects that live among rocks and gravel.
Habitat. It requires habitat. And that habitat, to me, means opportunity. Healthy fish. Healthy fishing.
As I think about the folks I started working with over seven years ago here at TU, they get that… they understand the connection between intact habitat and their ability to fish–and hunt, for that matter–in some of the best wild places in the world. And when we set off to protect our country’s public lands and fight attempts to diminish it, I got to see people of great character put every ounce of energy into keeping habitat intact and protecting the opportunity of anglers everywhere.
I think that’s what I’ll these folks this week. I’ll tell them that habitat and opportunity aren’t mutually exclusive. One begets the other.
And I’ll tell them it takes passionate people willing to stand up and protect that habitat. Thankfully, at TU, we have those people. Hopefully, our work will translate Down Under. Hopefully, there are passionate people here willing to protect habitat … and opportunity.