As we close out 2020, it is healthy to look backwards and celebrate the positives. Sure, it is easy to dwell on the bad in 2020–the human and economic devastation of COVID, wildfires, protests, a crazy election cycle, etc. There was, however, a great amount of good in 2020, too–without, in any way, minimizing any of the devastation. For all the partisanship over this past year, for example, applaudable bipartisanship emerged within the conservation sphere. Follow along for some of the greatest conservation victories of 2020!
Where to begin…denying Pebble Mine was one of the greatest conservation victories the fly fishing community has experienced. And it came in the middle of this difficult year, after many assumed it would move forward. Hundreds of thousands of anglers, conservationists, and Alaskans united to form a coalition for Bristol Bay that brought politicians together from across a wide aisle. There weren’t many issues that politicians agreed on in 2020, but opposing Pebble Mine enjoyed bipartisan support, facilitating the US Army Corps of Engineers denying Pebble’s permit. As we move into 2021, permanent protections for Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act are needed and possible.
In a massive win for wild salmon and steelhead, a Memorandum of Understanding on restoring the Klamath River and dam removal was signed, Tuesday, November 17th, by the Governors of California and Oregon, leaders of the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, PacifiCorp, and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. This would be the largest dam removal project ever undertaken in the United States and “restore salmon access to more than 400 miles of habitat, improve water quality and strengthen local communities that rely on salmon for their food, economy and culture.”
Fishing and Hunting Participation
One side effect of COVID’s social distancing and quarantining practices was that more Americans took the outdoors. Fishing and hunting license sales contribute millions of dollars directly to conservation efforts throughout the country. In 2020, “many states saw a dramatic rise in residents taking a hunter safety class for the first time. Some reported growth in young, female and first-time hunters—groups that hunting advocates have been trying to recruit for years, in hopes of slowing the demographic decline.” Hunting and fishing license sales fund state conservation projects, which ensure public access, preserve clean land and water, restore habitat, and conduct environmental studies. Additionally, the more people that understand and appreciate the outdoors, the easier it will be to advocate for their long term preservation.
The Great American Outdoors Act, which became law on August 4th 2020, builds upon LWCF’s 2019 permanent reauthorization by fully and permanently funding LWCF–$900 million annually. This bill guarantees that these funds are used to conserve and enhance our country’s outdoor recreation opportunities, rather than diverting them elsewhere. In addition, the bill provides billions of dollars to address a massive maintenance backlog on public lands. The broad support that allowed these legislative priorities to become law was a major bright spot for 2020 and a reminder of what is possible when our leaders come together. Regardless of the politics surrounding its passage, the Great American Outdoors Act, is one of the greatest victories for conservation in decades.
So, while we all took some hits this year–many of them life changing–it was not all gloom. We achieved great things for our lands, waters, and wildlife. Is there still more to do? Absolutely–there are countless priorities and projects that need our attention. But we learned in 2020 that we can accomplish serious priorities if we, the fly fishing community, come together. And, in one of the most encouraging outcomes of the year, our fly fishing community is growing!