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Access vs. Habitat

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Access vs. Habitat


What say you?


.......Who, for example, would argue that fishing, hunting and other land-based traditions are not threatened by our increasingly urbanized society, and that without sufficient numbers of participants in these pastimes, the "dirty work" of conservation will go wanting for volunteers?


In this context, the TU access debate can be seen as a metaphor for all that threatens our resources, water and land alike. It's no more complicated than this: Fewer participants means less conservation means more trouble for the environment.


I agree that TU shouldn't make river access a priority. Conservation is the higher calling. But neither should it shrink from an access fight when the greater good for water, trout and anglers is at stake. Sustaining fishing, after all, is as important to the future of trout as clean water and cold springs.


"I also come down on the side of habitat," said Jon Jacobs, a Twin Cities area TU leader. "But if you give away the water that flows through these feudal estates, what's next? Won't we even have the right to comment on the health of that water?"


Added Jacobs: "As the old saying goes, 'A secret river has no friends.' "........

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Slippery slope to be sure.


You need to understand that TU National has a finite amout of funds which could easily be depleted by a prolonged court fight. Counter point to the the preceeding is that if they do not continue to fight for public access, they will lose members in droves. Tough call.


Illinois is being held up as an example by both sides. We have antiquated stream access laws (compared to those in Wisconsin, liberal and enforced and Montana, liberal and un-enforced) and because of this, the historic trout streams of Illinois, the southernmost extreme of the Driftless region home to native Brook Trout have no friends.


Trout fishers in Illinois have little access, therefore no one fishes them. Because no one fishes them there are no voices with the IDNR to restore these streams to their historic glory. There currently exists no biologist on the IDNR staff with any stream trout expertise. The IDNR in turn, happily dumps hatchery Rainbows into area lakes to sell trout stamps.


Rainbows, an envasive species in Illinois.


If Illinois trout fishers had access, their voices would pressure the IDNR to improve historic native Brook Trout Streams raising tons of money to do so. Don't laugh, it takes about $100,000 per mile to restore a trout stream and several hundred miles of streams have been re-habilitated (using TU funds) in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota each year.


We, the local members of all 5 Illinois Chapters of TU and the Illinois Counsil of TU have pressured TU National not to give up the fight for Stream access and we feel that our voices are indeed, being heard.


Slow going, though. TU National will address access issues on a case-by-case basis and invest monies wisely.


All moving water should be held in public trust, cared for by all; trout fishers, birders, hunters, as well as the AG community.



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Trout fishers in Illinois have little access, therefore no one fishes them. Because no one fishes them there are no vioices with the IDNR to restore these streams to their historic glory. The IDNR in turn, happily dumps hatchery Rainbows into area lakes to sell trout stamps.

Thanks for the response, Joseph.


That statement right there speaks volumes, and touches on quite a few issues in one fell swoop.



Keep in mind that access to our natural resources involves so many varied yet intermingled usergroups. At times we'll see sportsmen and naturalists argue over what should be done with the relatively small acreage we have left for enjoying fish and wildlife.

A jogging path along the river is nice, but it is still yet another instance of a paved over landscape that is essentialy a detriment to everything living in and around the river.

So who's voice carries the most weight in the end?


Voices in the DNR:

I'm interested in knowing just how many "trout quality" streams, or those that supported them at one time, still exist in IL. I'd like to look into that when I get time, but Joseph can probably help us out on this question more.

Groups like the ISA (of which there are few) are expected to be that voice to the DNR.

More importantly, actually working with the DNR and collaborating with others to defend our rights of access.

Maintaining a healthy habitat is the obligation of any group proclaiming to be conservation-oriented.

How this goal is achieved of course is directly proportional to how much money you have to spend and how enthusiastic and innovative the people charged with making decisions and doling it out choose to be.


Hatchery Rainbow Stocking:

I'll take the opportunity to point out these are dumped into rivers and streams as well, as I'm sure you are aware.

A factor in the program that myself and others would like to see halted ASAP.

The Catchable Trout Program is one of the best ways we know of to get kids out fishing, introduce them to the outdoors and promote family interaction.

Dumping them into our rivers and streams does look to be rather harmless on the surface, but there are indications that there may be some better alternatives that don't stress vulnerable streams that can't currently support the extra strain.

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Mike, here's the distribution map of brook trout in Illinois as determined by the Natural History Survey Collections. Surely there were more streams with them in the Driftless. INHS data sets are never entirely comprehensive. Over scales of thousands of years, they were probably all over the state during prolonged cool climate periods.




Trout fishers in Illinois have little access, therefore no one fishes them. Because no one fishes them there are no voices with the IDNR to restore these streams to their historic glory.


There currently exists no biologist on the IDNR staff with any stream trout expertise. The IDNR in turn, happily dumps hatchery Rainbows into area lakes to sell trout stamps.


I'd be interested to have a deeper idea about the kind of restoration you mean here, Joseph. If it were possible to restore brook trout in Illinois streams, I think that would be a noble goal. I realize that streams with heavy ground water influence, adequate riparian cover and controlled sediment loading can stay quite cool. Do those places really exist in Illinois anymore? If temperatures keep climbing, as they are projected to, can we reasonably hope to have brook trout in the state over the next 25-100 years?


At what point do we decide that the best we can do is take care of native warm-water fisheries and let the trout continue their northward retreat?

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The Mission Statement of TU is to Preserve and Protect Coldwater Fisheries. This makes TU no more or less important than the ISA, just a different hydrology. Please note that neither the words Fly nor Fly Fishing do not appear in TU's Mission Statement or Charter. TU is first and foremost a Conservation club....not a fishing club. This does not sit well with some of the rank-and-file but if the Mission Statement is not addressed, I would no longer be a member.


Were there trout streams in Northern Illinois? You bet. Could there again be viable trout streams with naturally reproducing trout in Northern Illinois? Again, yes.


TU will not spend $1 on stream improvement where there is no public access and this presents an interesting dichotomy:


If TU is about preserving the Coldwater resource, should they not try to improve a stream even if no one is allowed to fish it? Remember, TU is not a fishing club.


What about spending monies to preserve and protect the headwaters of a watershed where Brook trout spawn if this stream flows through private property? Some members consider this to be the landscaping of private property for the financial gain of the property owner. A "stream" adds value to the property, a "trout stream" can double the property value. Should the landowner have to pay for some of the stream improvement?


Suppose you were Charles Schwab or Huey Lewis and owned land in Montana with a trout stream on it and you (against Montana's Water Rights Laws) posted it as no tresspassing. You have deep pockets and could wage a legal battle to keep folks off of your stream. The only foe you have in the legal system is TU and could easily run them out of money in a year.


If TU fights, they may win but the money they spend on a legal battle could just as easily be spent in Illinois. If TU opts out of the leagl battle, 1500 Illinois members up and quit.


This is a thumbnail sketch of what's currently going on with TU.


These are all tough questions that someone smarter than me needs to address.



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Odd that we would spend so much time on a Smallmouth website discussing trout but the access issue is critical to all fishers be they flyrodders or spincasters angling for trout or bass.


Again, I may have outed myself as the Trout Snob that I am, but I want to make it clear to all on this site:


Because I fish for trout and am a member of TU, I do not feel for one second that one group's work is more important or more noble than the other.




You should know that some of the board members of TU have been observing the work the ISA does.... and with some envy.

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Hello, friends... It's been a long time since I posted on the forum, and it would be no surprise to Mike and others that this post would draw me out from lurking in the forum shadows.


I get to see a great deal of how decision-making occurs in Springfield, and it has only strengthened my opinion about the need for access. Conservation and access are going to go hand in hand towards success, or wane together into ecological decline. Simply put, success depends on numbers. Numbers of people angling, hunting, enjoying the spaces where they have access.


As more and more of Illinoisians are removed from their pastoral roots - ie, I am grateful to be only one generation removed from the farm and land access - we have less connection to a sense of place. That connection is the foundation to anyone advocating for conservation. If you didn't have a connection to the Kankakee, Fox, or Kishwaukee Rivers, very few of us would care to protect them.


With only 2 percent of the state in public ownership, very few without access to landowners will have a chance to explore and make those personal connections.


In Illinois, we need to do several things to promote conservation:


1. Reach out and work with landowners who have that connection;

2. Find ways to improve access through easements or purchase;

3. Work to educate people who lack connection to encourage them to explore Illinois; and,

4. Seriously work on exposing the younger generations to outdoor pursuits.


It has been a concern of mine to see the numbers decline on certain pursuits. The discussion on TU was interesting, but the larger issue of how to connect people to the streams is probably more important here in Illinois.


I would like to applaud ISA board and members for all of their work. This forum, the conservation programs, etc. have helped to achieve some of these goals. Kids casting clinic at the State Fair also helps...


Enough rambling for now. I hope this post continues to get comments and provoke thought. This is a good one.



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Good to see you post again, Marc.


A couple of thoughts here:


1. I completely agree that public access to waterways is critical to the quality of life for human populations. Access is critical and where strategically feasible, an important fight to fight.


2. Whether or not anglers are "friends of the river" depends somewhat on the angler. Depending on our expectations, we've been both a net benefit and a net detriment to the systems we fish. Single species or even recreational fisheries chauvinism has done significant harm to some waterways due to exotics introductions and habitat modification. I would not, for instance, hold up the catchable trout program as being especially beneficial to Illinois streams (although it's a great program for lakes). Two photos of the recent Rock Creek opening day are pasted below to illustrate that point (the ISA regulation sign had been pulled out, apparently by trout anglers, in the parking lot).




But the "eyes on the land" argument is a compelling one. The informal poll asking ISA members how much time we spend on the water shows that over half of the respondents are spending over 3 full work weeks a year on Illinois streams. That means as a group we are spending tens of thousands of hours on the water. If those are thoughtful, concerned anglers who want "their" systems to function as naturally as possible (as I believe they are in the case of the ISA), that's potentially a huge asset to the resource.


3. In some cases, private ownership could be turned toward public good. Access on large waters should always be defended. However, on smaller, non-navigable flowages, things like stream leases that give the land owner (especially ag-production holdings) an incentive to protect and restore their streams. In some of those cases, where the systems are fragile and populations are sparse, general public access could degrade the resource. In those cases, things like stream leases can be win-win-win situations.


4. Groups like TU and the ISA have similar goals and merely need to work out how to be better ecological neighbors. Just as trout are retreating to the north during the current climate change, so too are smallmouth bass stressed along their southern range. Quality habitat slows that retreat. We all have a role to play in restoring and preserving the best possible function of those systems, regardless of the dominant fisheries or species within them.

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