In my capacity as someone who thinks our fishing resources are bound for the toilet hole if we just leave them as they are, I recently joined several concerned citizens for a boatride down the San Juan River with New Mexico state legislator Tom Taylor. Mr. Taylor ran a bill in the 2010 legislative session that would have required anglers fishing the San Juan to purchase a stamp with their licenses. The funds from stamp purchases would have been dedicated to conservation projects along the river, the exact nature and cost of these projects being unspecified enough to doom the bill. That’s what I think anyway; if things were clearer, they would have been clearer. There are poaching, sediment, flow, and stocking issues that could be tweaked to good effect. With Mr. Taylor (who is awesome by the way) still really interested in improving the watershed, we are going to take another whack at something productive, then another and another if need be.
Several days later, I and compadres from Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Wildlife Federation and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance visited the Valle Vidal, a high elevation elk park well-recovered from a history of rapacious overgrazing and logging. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan was with us, and he allowed us to discuss with him how far we had to go until the future of Rio Grande Cutthroat trout was secure, to say nothing of the riparian habitat that ensures life not only for the trout, but for elk, and downstream alfalfa farmers whose supply of water in their irrigation ditches is always a concern. Score another one for well-intentioned and hard-working legislators: Mr. Lujan and his staffer, Aaron Trujillo, were great fishing partners and were too kind in letting us bend their ears (pity they had to head home before about fifty head of cattle were seen wallowing in Comanche Creek in clear violation of their owner’s USFS grazing lease, but we’ll add that to the to do list).
Then to El Vado dam, where concerned rafters, agency professionals from BLM and BOR, and fishermen discussed a “recreational hydrograph” which would give agencies a clearer idea of how to manage the timing of dam releases. As I’ve learned from some friends at the Army Corps, water deliveries through the Rio Grande drainage are not immune to input from regular citizens. It’s good to know, in other words, that we can influence how these agencies achieve the objectives that are required of them. Acre feet can be delivered at once or piecemeal, just so long as they are delivered, and on time.
The lesson I learned over the last week is that so much is possible if we (conservation organizations, concerned citizens) take the engagement of our government seriously. Stop playing the helpless victim, I say. There is a NORAD, but it doesn’t include every branch of government or public servant. I’m looking forward to getting to know my representatives on the Hill and the Roundhouse. I hope I’ll resist the notion that the man in the agency uniform is “The Man” in uniform and not a person with a face, a work ethic, and body odor like many of the rest of us.
Honestly, I don’t think there is an alternative if we’re going to fluff up the Valle Vidal meadow, if we’re going to sustain the lunker brown fishery on the Chama, if we’re going to have any fishing on the San Juan at all as downstream water users develop their water rights. Let’s develop our rights too, shall we?