For people who enjoy the outdoors, that time and those places are our sanctuary—a break from our work, the complications and pace of life, our everyday. We carve out time to disconnect and maybe later, we post a few photos on social media for our friends and family to see. For me, it is no different, even though my work is about the outdoors and policies that affect the beautiful places I love to recreate. I can’t wait to finish work and head out to one of the nearby parks, or grab my fly rod and revisit a favorite spot or explore a new one. That time in the streams or on the trails, sitting by a fire or falling asleep in my tent, that is MY time. I’ve always considered it my “unplugged” time without a phone to answer or check, emails to read, or accountability to my job.
But, back in 2016, when the massive fish kill happened in the Whitewater River–just days after I had been out to one of my favorite spots–my view of that time changed. I watched as individuals, agencies, and officials passed the buck—all denying responsibility or accountability. I talked to colleagues and total strangers about how frustrating it was to feel so devastated by the event and have the decision-makers in the area seem to care so little. And I realized, along with many others, that my assumptions about how important this resource is to most people in the region, isn’t necessarily the reality.
So, I decided that if I wanted the places I love to be protected by those in a position to do so, I was going to need to sacrifice my somewhat selfish view of my time spent enjoying them, and share those experiences with the people who are ultimately responsible for their care. I started by emailing a picture, along with a brief testimonial of my time spent in the Whitewater to the State Representative whose district covers most of the watershed. I got very nice form emails back, but at least I knew they were getting through. Then, I branched out by sending the same pictures to representatives in surrounding areas, because the parks and streams in Southeast Minnesota are a regional resource and I figured it couldn’t hurt for their colleagues to receive the same communication. Finally, I decided there is influence in the local government too so I included a handful of county commissioners in my distribution list. I’ve been doing this most of the times I’ve gone out over the last year and a half.
At the end of September, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of women trout fishermen down in Preston at a weekend convention. They, like me, enjoy fly fishing for the solitary, almost meditative nature of it. But, they are also concerned about water quality and what it will mean for the long-term viability of the streams they frequent. So I shared my technique in the hopes that all of these incredible women will also start emailing pictures and testimonials of their experiences to the elected representatives in the region. The way I see it, we cannot assume that just because we’re all Minnesotans and historically, water has been important to us all, that our connection to it is the same as others’. And we can’t assume that the people who represent these incredible natural areas are fishermen, hunters, hikers, campers, or dirt-bikers themselves. It’s up to those of us who love and cherish these places to tell their story and ours, and if we do, there can be no reasonable doubt in the minds of our representatives just how much we value our natural places in Minnesota and how hard we want them to fight for them.
If you want to hear more about my approach or want to copy me on your next email to your elected official you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.