Its spring in North Carolina, and that means many of the states sportsmen are heading into the woods in search of turkey while anglers are planning their first fishing trips. We count ourselves among them and are eager to head to a small mountain stream to track down native Brook trout.
As we prepare for our first trips, however, anglers and hunters in North Carolina and across the country should know the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have recently proposed a rule that will restore the protections of the Clean Water Act to some of our most important fish and game habitat.
Many of the small headwater streams were eager to fish may flow only parts of the year, such as the spring and fall, yet they are incredibly important spawning habitat for native brook trout and other species. Even for those who prefer to fish larger rivers, protecting these small headwaters means better water quality downstream for other anglers and even municipal water supplies. Water that starts its cascade in a brook trout stream ends up in the taps of thousands of North Carolinians homes.
For three out of the four decades of the Clean Water Act, these streams were protected from pollution discharge and dredge and fill activities. Unfortunately, a series of Supreme Court decisions has weakened protections for these waters. The court also called into question the Clean Water Acts protection for isolated wetlands, used by migrating waterfowl in our state, as well as for waterfowl reproduction in other states. The EPA and Corps proposed rule clearly restores protection to seasonal streams, and if crafted correctly, can protect wetlands important for waterfowl and hunters alike.
In addition to wisely asking for input on questions such as the best way to protect isolated wetlands, the EPA and Corps have not proposed any changes to the Clean Water Acts longstanding exemptions for normal farming and forestry activities. As much of a tradition as hunting and fishing is in North Carolina, so are farming and forestry. Neither of us wants to see the EPA regulating a farmers responsible use of land and water resources.
Hunting and fishing are more than a tradition in our state, though. A 2011 report from the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that more than 1.8 million people fished or hunted in North Carolina, directly spending more than $2 billion on equipment and trips. Other businesses, too, from outdoor recreation to breweries depend on clean water. In fact, when New Belgium Brewing announced plans to construct a new brewery in Asheville, it cited the clean water of the French Broad as a key reason for its location. Not much needs to be said of the affinity of hunters and anglers for good beer, but all of our interests trace back to healthy headwater streams.
At the end of the day, by standing up for these small streams, the EPA and Corps are protecting some of our states most important fish and waterfowl habitat. So this spring, whether youre planning a spring trip to a small mountain stream, one of the larger rivers downstream that depend on them or biding your time until you can bring your duck decoys out in the fall, take some time to thank the EPA and Corps for looking out for your North Carolinas hunters and anglers.
Tim Gestwicki is chief executive officer of the NC Wildlife Federation. Jim Mabrey is chairman of N.C. Trout Unlimited.