Whether you’re sitting around on Thanksgiving pondering all the things we each have to be grateful for — family, friends, safety, security — or just embarking on a day of football watching, binge eating and alcohol-fueled dinner table political arguments, today offers an opportunity to reflect on the many things anglers have to be thankful for. It’s a long list, no doubt, which is why we’ve been able to make this somewhat of a Thanksgiving tradition over the years.
Here are a few more to consider in 2023.
Our Public Lands
The United States’ massive endowment of public lands kicked off our first installment of this Thanksgiving Day feature almost 10 years ago. This year, we’re revisiting the nation’s massive, 640 million acres of land where many of us not only hunt and fish but hike, bike, camp, ride horses or ATVs, graze cattle, and much more. No other country on the planet has a larger allotment of public lands over which everyday men and women have a voice in its use and management.
In addition to offering huge swaths of wilderness and intact habitat which serve as strongholds for countless species of would-be endangered flora and fauna, our public lands serve as the foundation of the nation’s enormous annual outdoor recreation economy that recently eclipsed the $1 trillion mark and which provides employment for over 5 million Americans.
Perhaps most notably, in a modern America where political divisions are increasingly a defining aspect of everyday life, the U.S. public lands system has largely arisen as an apolitical project. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have protected large expanses of public lands, and congressional actions to protect public lands have historically been the product of bi-partisan consensus, not political strife.
According to John D. Leshy, author of Our Common Ground: A History of America’s Public Lands, the idea that” public lands have been divisive, controversial, and subject to partisan politics,” is a myth. “Public lands have largely been a unifying force from the beginning.”
— Chad Shmukler
In 1934, an Upper Peninsula angler caught Michigan’s last grayling in the Otter River—an incredible event when you consider that a few decades before that, the town of Crawford had changed its name to Grayling to honor a fish most believed would, along with the majestic forests of white pines, provide an everlasting bounty. But today, the marvelous trees and fish are gone, and despite our best efforts, we have failed to undo the destructive things we’ve done. Like automobiles, reputations, and relationships, fragile ecosystems are much easier to maintain than to repair.
Although fish are only one of many reasons we should care about our lakes, rivers, and oceans, for many of us, they are the primary reason, and we should be thankful to them for that. I have a framed print with artwork by Glenn Wolff and prose by Jerry Dennis on my office wall, and though it addresses the act of fishing, I think you can substitute the word “They” for “It” and deliver the same poetic message:
It teaches us to perform small acts with care.
It humbles us. It enriches our friendships.
It cultivates reverence for wild things and beautiful places.
It reminds us that time needs occasionally to be squandered.
It offers relief from endless chores and appalling world events.
It makes us participants in nature instead of spectators,
a crucial distinction because participants tend to
become passionate and protective and
spectators tend to become indifferent.
I’m thankful to the fish for inspiring so many people and groups to fight for the health and well-being of the waters that support their existence. As the grayling showed us nearly a century ago, if we lose this fight, we lose it all.
— Tim Schulz
It’s November of 2023 and we see storm clouds everywhere we look. There are wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, climate change is spawning unprecedented environmental and economic chaos, and an authoritarian cult threatens our democracy. Yet in spite of the darkness that surrounds us, there are still rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds.
I’m incredibly thankful for a younger generation that takes climate change seriously and is stepping up to address the issue. With the help of the outstanding legal team at Our Children’s Trust, my 18 year old son Kian — along with 15 other young Montanans — took the State of Montana to court over climate change, and won.
In her ruling, Montana district court judge Kathy Seeley stated, “The science is clear that there are catastrophic harms to the natural environment of Montana and Plaintiffs and future generations of the State due to anthropogenic climate change. The degradation to Montana’s environment, and the resulting harm to Plaintiffs, will worsen if the State continues ignoring GHG emissions and climate change.”
Earlier this week, Judge Seeley denied the State of Montana’s motion for a stay, adding: “Plaintiffs are already experiencing substantial injuries and infringement of their constitutional rights. These injuries and constitutional violations will be exacerbated if Defendants continue to ignore climate change and GHG emissions in MEPA reviews. The infringement of constitutional rights constitutes irreparable harm.”
— Todd Tanner
If reading the word “science” — which we all have to thank for minor contributions to human civilization such as the ability to harness and generate electricity, antibiotics, our understanding of gravity, and for that smartphone you’re likely reading this on — puts you on the defensive, it might be time for some introspection. Though special interests have dumped billions of dollars into politicizing the work of scientists and researchers, science is and always has been the bedrock of our ability to understand the world around us.
Science uses data. Empirical, unadulterated data. It’s carefully gathered, both in real time and over time — it’s the great knowledge equalizer that provides us not just with an understanding of the natural world around us but often with a realistic forecast of what’s to come if certain trends continue.
It is thanks to science that we have developed an understanding of the fact that, at our current pace, our native and wild trout likely have about 40 years left. Science has also helped us understand that we can’t hatch our way out of the steelhead and salmon decline in the Pacific Northwest. If the anadromous fish in the Snake River watershed of Oregon, Idaho and Washington are to persist, the four dams on the Snake River must come out.
But, yes, as a certain former vice president is famous for saying, science is often inconvenient. It requires action and change. Worse, for most folks, it requires sacrifice.
Nevertheless, I’m thankful for science. In my lifetime, it’s been responsible for some amazing things that have positively impacted our lives. Science is the basis for things like the Clean Water Act that turned rivers which used to run black with pollutants and occasionally catch fire into fishable, swimmable sources of clean drinking water. It proved beyond a reasonable doubt that, by removing a century-old dam on a coastal river in Washington, salmon and steelhead would come back on their own and become viable once again.
Science helped save millions of acres of roadless public lands from the whims of the multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry. It’s what’s kept the chainsaw at bay, and away from the last of our old-growth forests. It helped necessitate the cleanup of thousands of historic mining sites that made life exponentially difficult on the wild trout I love so much.
I just hope more folks will tune into what’s happening around them and that they will come to appreciate the science that is helping us understand how to save the world we live in. Otherwise, like our precious trout, I fear we’re doomed.
— Chris Hunt