The role of Trout Unlimited.
When considering the Tellico matter and other issues of access in which Trout Unlimited (TU) have involved themselves; it would appear their leadership have simply not thought this one through. Encouraging policies and legislation that prohibit motorized entry to these areas seems to imply that all trout fishermen are physical specimens of our species. Most fishermen I know (including myself) are people of average ability; some with bad knees or a weak back that need to drive to the fishing hole. They are not marvelously built individuals with heart and lung capacities of world class endurance athletes, backpacking for miles across ridge tops to get to their streams. Yet this is what is suggested by TU’s doctrine of we don’t need no stinkin’ trucks.
Physical fitness aside, are the rest of the nation to abandon our parks? Do TU believe this scenario they are creating—in which taxpayers essentially subsidize the recreation of a very few—will last long term? As our population continues to grow, expand, and consume, how can a philosophy of conservation by exclusion be sustainable? In a vain attempt to explain the latter, I sent the following letter to the TU leadership of NC, TN, members of the TU national council, as well as the editorial desks of the Chattanoogan, Asheville Citizen-Times, and Clay County Progress:
This may be one of the most honest letters you will read regarding the situation in Tellico. I am not an attorney. I am not associated with a special-interest group, attempting to force its point-of-view. I am an individual respectfully writing to you as an outdoorsman. I consider myself a hunter, fisherman, mountain biker, hiker, and off-road enthusiast--one no more than another and in no particular order. As a member of many varied user-groups that use public land I am exposed to the assortment of conflicts that arise among them.
I have heard the mountain bikers complain about sharing trails with horses. In turn, the equestrians gripe about the mountain bikers. The fishermen are aggravated by pleasure-boaters and grumble over areas with off-highway vehicles (OHV). The hikers, it seems, do not want to share any area with anyone; and the hunters--having already lost most of their usage rights--don’t seem to matter at all. What all these people fail to realize is that they are all bound together by their love of the outdoors. With proper land management, there are enough forests, streams, lakes, and trails for all. A given area can only remain secure by respecting the rights of all to freely use it; one lone segment is not large or powerful enough to protect our land…We all need each other.
Although this concept is lost to most of the user-groups I have mentioned, it is very well known to environmental activists and bureaucrats. Under the guise of protecting and preserving, the activists and bureaucrats make their livings by taking and regulating. Our differences are exploited by them. They gain nothing when outdoorsmen get along. By dividing and excluding us one group at a time, they make it easier for their friends (the politicians) to “share” what would have been our land with developers, loggers, and miners.
The Trout Unlimited website declares that it was never their “intent” to completely remove a fellow user-group from Tellico; yet the decision to do so is one they “applaud.” Regardless, once the OHV users are gone and the local economy adjusts itself to their absence, other forms of business will take hold and people will move on. Fewer people will use Tellico and proportionately fewer jobs will depend upon its existence. Coming generations will begin to view Tellico as a void and impedance to the region’s vitality. Then the activists and bureaucrats will return to cut off another piece…maybe your piece. When that time comes, who will be left to stand with Trout Unlimited and defend the right to use public land when that very right has been so devalued? It is in all our interests right now to see this to a different outcome.
There is enough Tellico for all of us, but too much for any one interest to protect. There are other alternatives to preserving the native trout without threatening the long-term sustainability of this area. Irreparable trails that are objectively determined to be endangering the trout should be permanently closed; in exchange for new trails being created on higher/safer ground. This is commonly referred to as land management and is an area of expertise in which the Forest Service is apparently lacking. Please understand my point: we--as outdoorsmen--are all on the same side. We all love the outdoors and want to share it with our friends and families. It is time for sportsmen of all stripes to stop competing with each other. We need to use some of that patience and perseverance we get from driving a truck through a rock garden, climbing a mountain on a bike, calling ducks in a blind, or chasing the fish of our dreams and use it to protect our lifestyles for years to come.
Dr. CF Beets