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Take a legislator fishing with you

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POSTED August 26, 2012 6:34 p.m.

As you may be aware, I have more than a passing interest in politics. Now you may be asking yourself "What's that have to do with fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits?” The answer is "Almost everything.” Whether you want to legalize mountain lion hunting because there are too many lions and attacks on women and children are becoming common, or if you want more trout planted in your favorite stream, the answers you get are part of a political process.

Whether we like it or not, politics decide our outdoor policies not only in the U.S.A. but in almost civilized country on earth.

If  you want to climb Mount Everest, cast for Tarpon in Belize, or hunt Bighorn Sheep in British Columbia, you’ve got to deal with the government. 

Many moons ago, I was active in The Tuolumne Trust, a group trying to preserve and improve the Tuolumne River. One of the key’s to saving the Tuolumne was the Resources Secretary of California, whose support or opposition was critical to determine if President Ronald Reagan would sign or veto our bill. We managed to arrange a white water raft down the Tuolumne with the Resources Secretary, Gordon Van Vleck. On that three day trip, I somehow hit it off with Gordon, who was just an old cattleman who somehow got caught up in politics. We became close friends and he invited me several times to fish on his cattle ranch in the hills east of Sacramento. He was not only a great guy, but critical in our efforts on the Tuolumne. Eventually we got a bipartisan bill through the congress and President Reagan signed the Tuolumne Wild River Act.

I once had a similar situation with legislation affecting property rights in California, I called my friend, Assemblyman Norm Waters, and we met at a bar in Lodi where we wrote a new law protecting landowner’s property rights in California. Like Gordon Van Vleck, old Norm was just a simple cattleman who’ taken time out from ranching to put in time representing ordinary folks in Sacramento. Norm carried the legislation we drafted on a cocktail napkin & it was eventually signed by the Governor. Gordon Van Vleck was an influential Republican and& Norm Waters was a life-long Democrat, but the trout and the deer herds never knew the difference. The only important thing was that both men supported our outdoor heritage. Party didn’t matter.

Believe it or not, governors and legislators in addition to everything else they try to be, are also real people, and as such they're subject to the same weaknesses as all of the rest of us. There are so many issues that they must deal with, that it's impossible to focus on all of them. We, as outdoor enthusiasts, may think that our pet issues deserve top priority but we often fail to realize that almost every interest group you can think of is trying to keep their favorite issue at the top of our legislator’s hit parade.  If you really want to impress your legislator with the merits of your cause there is absolutely no better way than to show him (or her) first hand.

A case in point, might well be our bicycle bridge across the Stanislaus River here in Ripon, fortunately, we had a mayor who was a big time bicycle fanatic. As chance would have it, our bicycling Mayor just happened to have a biking buddy in the State Senate. Wouldn't you know it?  Ripon just happened to get selected for a funding grant. When all was said & done, most all of the cost of the bridge was funded by various grants that might well have gone to fund projects in other cities and counties. Our community benefited because our mayor was biking buddies with our senator.

Those same kinds of relationships are still critical to outdoor issues today. Our local state Assemblyman, Bill Berryhill, is a grape grower, but he is also a hunter, fisherman and dog breeder as well.  Co-incidentally, his brother, Tom Berryhill, is our state senator and just as active an outdoors supporter. Both Bill and Tom Berryhill are always willing to listen. It is critical to acquaint your legislator with issues you consider important. That's part of the democratic process. Another item to remember when trying to convince legislators of the importance of your cause is to throw partisanship out the window. Deer aren't democrats, and rivers aren't republicans. They are resources that belong to all of us. Believe it or not most legislators really try to represent all of their constituents in their district regardless of party. Another great idea when dealing with legislators is to say "thank you" once in awhile. Everybody writes their congressman when they want something, but thank yous are pretty rare and don't go un-noticed.

If ever there was an underrepresented minority in this state, its outdoor enthusiasts. There are over 2 million anglers and several hundred thousand hunters. Throw in a bunch more bird watchers, skiers, hikers, campers and photography fanatics and you've got a heck of a lot of people. Yet when was the last time you heard a politician speak out about the plight of trout fishers, or duck hunters?  The reason for that is simple. We haven't made ourselves heard. If you love the outdoors and think we should spend more on Fish & Game than on trying to ban cheeseburgers, write your legislator. Better yet invite your legislator fishing & tell him while you’re waiting for that lunker catfish to bite.

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