Opinion: Outdoors enthusiasts must fight to save conservation funding

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The author, Taylor Ridderbusch, with a musky // Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited

Taylor Ridderbusch is the Great Lakes organizer for Trout Unlimited, which has 160,000 national members, including 36,000 in states bordering the Great Lakes. Ridderbusch is a lifelong resident of Wisconsin. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

As anglers, and as sportsmen and women, there is always a mood of excitement that comes along with the next opportunity to get away from day-to-day monotony and surround ourselves with a bit of fresh air.

For some anglers, it’s slipping on your waders and stalking a skittish brook trout in a narrow stream. For others it’s taking off from a fog covered boat launch at dawn, setting out to make 10,000 casts for the elusive Esox masquinongy (or “musky”).

No matter what form your outdoor pursuit takes, these experiences become important facets in the quality and enjoyment of life. Trout Unlimited does its best to be a facilitator and steward of this lifestyle.

TU staff and volunteers invest thousands of hours of work and millions of dollars towards creating great local fisheries and preserving and protecting our natural areas so that when anglers do have the chance to get away and out on the stream, they are out there catching fish.

But, as any sportsman will tell you, the enjoyment of a fishing trip goes beyond that. It’s the time spent with friends and family, it’s the campfire and a cold beer, and the chance to take in the scenic beauty this nation has to offer.

And, now we may begin losing out on these opportunities.

The significant proposed cuts in the President’s budget to government agencies like the EPA—including the elimination of programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)—would thwart much of the on-the-ground work TU and other organizations are accomplishing.

And those accomplishments are many.

To take just one example, TU has GLRI funding for projects in Michigan’s Huron-Manistee National Forest to enhance in-stream habitat. The project uses whole trees to create engineered log jams throughout approximately one mile of the Little Manistee River, a major tributary to the Big Manistee River. The newly constructed log complexes provide increased habitat for trout, salmon and steelhead, improve organic matter retention, and provide additional cover and refuge for aquatic life.

Before and after a Trout Unlimited habitat restoration project on the Little Manistee River in Michigan // Photos courtesy of Trout Unlimited

These proposed cuts would not only affect TU’s future restoration work, but will also affect anglers’ daily experiences in our lakes and rivers, harming local communities across the region in turn. Many communities throughout the Great Lakes rely on outdoorsmen and women to support the local economy through their spending at local shops, restaurants, and resorts.

Outdoor recreation is not a partisan issue. It is about a quality and way of life that supports a vital economy in the Great Lakes—$7 billion in fishery and $16 billion in tourist spending. Consider the impact on communities like Duluth, Minn., or Grand Rapids, Mich., where water-related outdoors recreation is a key driver to an economic resurgence. Further, if the quality fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, bird watching and the like begin to deteriorate, so do the communities as visitation declines.

The fate of our lakes, rivers and forests lie in the hands of our elected officials as they begin their budget and appropriations process. The proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative won’t happen if our elected officials stand up for the program, a critical investment into the future of the Great Lakes region.

Now is the time for outdoors enthusiasts of all kinds to stand up and to be vocal about what is not only important to us, but what is important to the wellbeing of our communities as a whole.

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