Opinion

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Guest Column

Clean Water Rule Means Big Fish and Big Money

Fishing is at the heart of the state’s $7 billion per year outdoor recreation economy

As flyfishing outfitters, guides, and shop owners in Montana, we absolutely depend on headwaters – ephemeral and intermittent streams, as well as wetlands – because those are the places that trout spawn and grow, and wild and native trout are essential to our businesses. If the healthy headwaters protected by the 2015 Clean Water Rule were suddenly vulnerable to pollution and drying up, the fish our clients pay to catch, the jobs that pay supports, and the things we love most about Montana are all at risk.

This month the Clean Water Rule is under consideration by the EPA. Through Sept. 27, the agency is accepting public comments on President Donald Trump’s order to the agency to roll back protections for many of the nation’s headwaters and wetlands, roughly 60 percent of the stream mileage in the U.S.

Most of us have seen the impressive but dull statistics. Tourists spend at least $350 million annually in Montana on fishing, which is at the heart of the state’s $7 billion per year outdoor recreation economy. That economy generates over 71,000 Montana jobs. Thousands of those jobs are guides and outfitters like us, not to mention the thousands of fly shop owners and employees. But when we think of how clean water supports our industry, we rarely think in terms of numbers. Clean water to us is about people and, of course, trout.

Sustaining the high quality of our headwaters means we are able to work, to support families, to put kids through college, and to think about retiring so we can fish more. It means we employ the young woman who has recently come west to marry her passion for angling with her need to be outdoors in beautiful, pristine places. It means offering more guide days to a journalism major who is paying his way through school, hands on the oars by day and tapping at his keyboard by night. It means celebrating a couple’s 25th fishing trip to Montana, their silver anniversary of fly-fishing. And when we are most fortunate, clean water has meant welcoming our sons and daughters into the family business.

Clean water is also the literal lifeblood of our businesses. When the Yellowstone River was closed last summer due to the PKD outbreak that killed tens of thousands of white fish, everyone whose income depended on river recreation took a huge financial hit. If we lose Clean Water Rule protection for the “ephemeral and intermittent” streams that pour cold, clean water into our state’s wealth of trout spawning tributaries, the hit people took with the Yellowstone closure will seep through our industry statewide. Revoking the Clean Water Rule might not cause massive fish kills (although it could do that, too) but it will imperil trout spawning. No clean, cold water means no new generations of trout. Protecting healthy spawning waters today means big trout in years to come. Safeguarding clean water, for us, is an investment. No different than putting tips in the bank for next year’s tuition, for a mortgage down the road, or, may we all be so lucky, for retirement.

Montana has what economists call an “over reliance” on fishing as a job sector. The percentage of fishing-related jobs in the state far exceeds the national average. As much as our state’s economy relies on the angling economy, those jobs depend just as heavily on clean water from its sources on down. Of course, this is not news to most of you. About 75 percent of Montana’s business owners recognize that protecting land and water goes hand-in-hand with having a strong economy and good jobs in the state. For us, those jobs are not ephemeral or intermittent. Those jobs are long-time friends, trusted employees, and family. We are committed to protecting our livelihoods. We are committed to opposing the repeal of the Clean Water Rule. Federal clean water protection of headwater streams and wetlands has been in place for more than thirty years, as long as many of us have been in this business. The current rule simply clarified those protections. It works. Let’s keep it that way.

Brandon Boedecker, outfitter, Pro Outfitters, Helena; Chris Fleck, owner/outfitter, Stillwater Anglers, LLC, Columbus; Hilary Hutchison, guide/shop owner, Glacier Anglers/Lary’s Fly & Guide Shop, West Glacier/Columbia Falls; Jim Klug, director of operations, Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, Bozeman; Tim Linehan, owner and outfitter, Linehan Outfitting Co., Troy; Brian McGeehan, owner and outfitter, Montana Angler Fly Fishing Inc., Bozeman; Brian Neilsen, owner and outfitter, Missouri River Guides, Great Falls; Terri Raugland and John Herzer, owner/outfitters, Blackfoot River Outfitters/Flint Creek Outdoors, Missoula and Philipsburg; Joe Sowerby, owner and outfitter, Montana Flyfishing Connection LLC, Missoula

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