Is Conservation Dead?

October 24, 2018

Has the connection that fly fishing provides to environment conservation become a 20th century artifact?


If you ask the former chief of our country's national wildlife refuges, Dan Ashe, you may be surprised to hear that the answer definitely isn't no.  But its not just the role anglers play in conservation, in Ashe's view its the tribalism that has infected the conservation community that is to blame.  You can read his thoughts here-- and I encourage you to-- its a sober assessment.


The same day I read Ashe's thoughts on the decline of conservation I encountered another article describing the divide that has cleaved potential conservation allies over Wyoming's upcoming grizzly bear hunt,that spoke exactly to the rise of the us-versus-them mentality that has come to define and split the conservation community.  Here is a quote from the article that provides a taste of exactly what Ashe is speaking to:


There is an incredible liberal element that’s moved in around Jackson Hole,” he [Sy Gililland] says. “You walk in and you figure out pretty fast who is who. We’re wearing a cowboy hat, and they’re wearing yoga pants...


Then, not to be overlooked is the evident apathy that has begun to seep into younger generations.  This is what lead me to ask if fly fishing's special connection to environmental conservation has become irrelevant in today's world.  Is it an antiquated feature of a bygone day?  Is it only a rarefied remnant of a white, male dominated sport therefore to be rejected out of hand today?  Or is it just another elitest avenue for the wealthy to impose their will on western communities and resource, as has often been portrayed and mocked?  It saddens me deeply to even put such words to paper.


I told a story in the closing chapters of my book on fly fishing and native trout conservation, Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters, about how in order to be an ecologist in today's world you have to be an optimist.  To be anything less is to succumb to an emotional death by a thousand cuts.  Yes, I understand where Dan Ashe is coming from, I also understand where Sy Gililland is coming from.  I'm an ecologist born and raised in Wyoming's rural landscape-- I have the luxury of viewing the arguments on conservation from both viewpoints.  And it's for this reason that I reject out-of-hand the idea that conservation is heading for irrelevance.  Not because of any Pollyannish worldview, but because I live these conflicts everyday and know the passion held by all.  Likewise, I appreciate the divide that is truly cleaving the conservation community, but instead of resigning myself to a pre-ordained outcome I look to ecology for inspiration, particularly to the teachings of Dr. C.S. "Buzz" Holling.


In his work on ecosystem ecology Holling developed a four-part model that describes the birth, growth, destruction, and rebirth of ecosystems.  In order for the cycle to renew itself there must first be destruction; it is only after destruction and the release of bound potential that rebirth and renewal become possible.  The conservation movement came of age in the 20th century, flourished and grew.  It is quite likely that today we are experiencing the destructive phase of this cycle, which will be hard to behold for both its destruction and losses, but this will be followed by a renewal of the conservation community in ways that could never be anticipated, because underpinning all element of the cycle is resilience.  And it is the resilience of the conservation community and the landscapes, species, and ideals that bind us together that I wholeheartedly believe in.  


Yes, destruction is coming, but so is the renewal.


Until next time,

Cheers & tight lines,








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