Sportsmen Gather for Clean Water Summit

RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News

Earlier this week, Ducks Unlimited hosted the Sportsmen’s Summit for Clean Water, a think tank of national organizations brought together to look at grassroots conservation and communication efforts in their various communities and ways to effectively enforce the Clean Water Act of 1972.

About 70 leaders from five organizations – Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League of America, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership – came from as far away as Colorado and Florida. The groups collectively represent several million members.

“We’ve been working for several years to re-establish the intent of Congress that was laid out in 1972,” said Scott Yaich, director of conservation operations for Ducks Unlimited. “Their full intent was that the Clean Water Act be used to protect and conserve wetlands and things like intermittent streams, recognizing that all these waters are connected to navigable waters where the longtime federal interest had been back to the 1800s.”

The groups involved in the summit have been working to restore protection to wetlands that have been affected by Supreme Court decisions in recent years.

“The Supreme Court decision did two things, it weakened the protections and then it made the whole decision-making process behind how you permit certain impacts very confusing,” Michael Butler, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, said regarding the Rapanos v. United States decision of 2006, which challenged the federal jurisdiction to regulate isolated wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

The meetings, held at Ducks Unlimited’s national headquarters, One Waterfowl Way, pulled leaders from the networked groups to discuss how to mobilize their grassroots memberships in support of pursuing and supporting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers, those agencies with jurisdiction, with reestablishment and reassertion of new regulatory guidance and in pursuing rulemaking.

“It was a good meeting; the intent was not to leave there with a firm strategy outline,” Yaich said. “This was a session to get everybody’s input on how we can all work together to best mobilize the hunters and anglers that comprise our organizations to understand that this is a serious issue when it comes to the future of conservation and the resources that provide the basis for the pursuits they love.”

The membership of these organizations is typically an apolitical group, though stereotypically conservative, Yaich said. These are not advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club, but they have not been motivated to get political.

Most are working within their groups in youth programs or on-the-ground conservation programs, so the summit worked toward trying to get input from the leadership and membership to develop a strategy that will motivate them to get involved.

“The main reason for getting together was trying to get a cross-section from these groups and explain to them the processes of how to go about dealing with agencies and legislators,” said Larry Richardson, state chairman for Ducks Unlimited, “the problems we have in trying to get this message across and how to overcome them.”

With his degree in biology, Richardson understands how to communicate to those without a scientific background. As the retired director of field operations for Ducks Unlimited, he understands the importance of a unified front.

“Too often we splinter our efforts with blinders on, trying to save our own little poster child and this way it opens up the channels of communication and creates one voice, or a larger voice,” Richardson said.

The prevention of the loss of wetlands should be an issue to the broader community, as any loss of acreage upstream contributes to flooding locally in channels, along the Wolf River and into the Mississippi River and its regions, as well as damage to the purity and quality of drinking water.

Butler lives in Nashville and saw firsthand in May the damage flooding can do. He links the loss of wetlands to a loss of homes and money.

“If you allow wetlands to do their job, then they can buffer the floodwaters and you end up not having as much damage to property and, in turn, when you don’t have as much damage to property, you don’t have as many tax dollars having to bail people out under flood insurance programs, and you don’t have to keep building in the same areas that are bad to build on to begin with,” he said.