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Wild connection

Whether you're attending a magic show in Las Vegas or dealing with government, it's always a good idea to "watch the other hand" if you really want to know what's going on. Both magicians and politicians are masters of deception and misdirection.

That sad fact of life has become abundantly clear to the recreational fishing community, as its advocates intensify their efforts to keep public waters open and accessible to anglers. And as they push, they need anglers all across America to push with them.

This is necessary because, as ESPN previously reported, environmental/preservationist groups are pressuring Obama to by-pass Congressional oversight and act unilaterally in approving a management strategy for our oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes.

This comes at a time when the recreational fishing community had been led to believe that a public and transparent process would follow the recommendations of his Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and decisions would not be made without careful deliberation.

Because of administration ties to these groups and support for their agendas, issuance of an Executive Order almost certainly would mean closure of public waters to recreational fishing under the guise of a "spatial planning" strategy.

It also would mean that the administration successfully deceived the angling community that a fair and open process would be used to develop a management plan.

To speak out against issuance of an Executive Order, go to the Keep America Fishing web site and send a letter to Obama, your elected officials, and the task force.

"Clearly the environmental community is making a push on this," said Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association. "We can't let just their voices be heard. We must make them listen to the recreational fishing community as well."

In response to this concern, Andrew Winer, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told angling advocates, "I want to assure all of you that the rumor remains incorrect and that there is no plan to issue an Executive Order before the public comment period is closed."

The big problem with that is deadline for public comments on the task force's management framework proposal is Feb. 12.

"If an Executive Order were to be issued — and we hope that it won't be — it shouldn't be for months," said Gary Kania of the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation. "A deliberative process is needed before decisions are made, with consideration given for all of the comments that have been made.

"We're meeting with the members of the Congressional Sportsmen Caucus to raise this issue. Enhancing Congressional oversight is what's needed. Let's get them involved in something of this scale."

And while anglers seem to have been deceived about the fairness of the process, they have been misdirected as well. While they have focused their energies solely on dealing with the task force, a federal agency has been conspiring with a low-profile, but radical preservationist group, The WILD Foundation, to create a "marine wilderness" management plan that very well could interconnect with the task force.

WILD's objective: "We believe that at least half of the Earth's surface (land and water) needs to be permanently protected in an essentially wild condition, in a manner that keeps all of life interconnected."

Its partner: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If WILD has its way, anglers would be denied access by motorized boats to half of the nation's oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes, with the way opened via the task force for similar limitations on inland waters.

"You could have to paddle for two miles to fish in a marine wilderness area," Robertson said.

Here's what WILD says on its web site:

"WILD has teamed up with its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) colleagues to work closely in seeking public input, with WILD spearheading the non-governmental community through the MWC (Marine Wilderness Collaborative, and the USFWS driving government agency participation through the Intergovernmental Working Group on Marine Wilderness."

The recreational fishing community didn't learn of this partnership until early February, although WILD posted information regarding the project on its web site on Dec. 18.

"It's standard procedure for the Fish and Wildlife Service to reach out to non-governmental organizations for partnerships," Kania said. "But this is a pretty radical agenda that the WILD Foundation is proposing.

"What we want to know now from Fish and Wildlife is how long we have to comment on this."

In trying to keep anglers out of vast areas, what WILD and other groups fail to grasp is "how conservation works," Robertson said. "It's paid for by the people most interested in it. If they can't be involved, they'll be less interested, and the end game would be much less investment in fisheries management."

Through license fees and excise taxes on fishing equipment, anglers contribute millions of dollars annually for fisheries research and habitat improvements, as well as coastal wetlands planning and restoration. Additionally, they assist resource agencies in numerous ways, including data collection to determine status and management strategies for sport species.

Denying access to the nation's 60 million anglers not only would collapse this life-support system for our fisheries, it would devastate the economies of communities dependent on recreational fishing. Just as importantly, it would do irreparable harm to a family-oriented pastime that keeps us in touch with and appreciative of the natural world.

As a Senior Writer for ESPN/BASS Publications, Robert Montgomery has written about conservation, environment, and access issues for more than two decades.

For more information

Find out more about the battle for public waters at KeepAmericaFishing.org, a Web site maintained by the American Sportfishing Association.

To learn more about the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and its Interim Report, click here.