Within minutes of Donald Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Trump and his team unveiled the President's new stance on energy issues, which made one of its cornerstones the elimination of the Waters of the U.S. Rule which is, to anglers, likely the single most important piece of legislation in existence. For Trump's detractors, the declaration was little more than a confirmation of fears that they have held throughout the campaign and run up to the election. But for Trump's supporters in the fishing and hunting communities, the stance may serve to put an end to hopes that Trump's pledges to conserve and protect lands for hunters and anglers—which many felt were buoyed by his son's avid sportsmanship—were anything more than empty promises.
If you’re an angler and are not familiar with the Waters of the U.S. Rule, or as it is more accurately known, the Clean Water Rule, then you haven’t been paying attention. A long list of groups fought tirelessly to see the rule come to fruition, including over 200 sportsmens groups—such as Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, B.A.S.S., Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Izaak Walton League of America and more—which signed a 2014 letter urging the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “clarify and restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands across the country.”
In time, the EPA and corps did just that via the Clean Water Rule. Put simply, the rule made clear that the almost universally beloved Clean Water Act of 1972 included protections for brooks, creeks, streams, wetlands and other water bodies which feed into America’s larger waterways—eliminating confusion caused by court decisions in 2001 and 2006. The rule not only helped restore protections to streams and rivers of vital importance to anglers, it also restored protections to waterways that provide drinking water for millions of people.
Despite the fact that the rule did no more than clarify existing protections put in place by the Clean Water Act (protections were not extended to any new waters) and that there has been no compelling evidence to suggest that the rule has in any way harmed jobs or industry (if anything, the rule is likely a boon to the over half a trillion dollar outdoor recreation industry), Trump made a declaration of his intention to eliminate the rule his first order of business.
The pronouncement was made through the White House website, which was updated within minutes of Trump’s inauguration, and noted
For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.
Sportsmen’s groups, several of which were some of the strongest advocates for the Clean Water Rule’s establishment, responded sharply.
“The only threat to jobs here are the ones that connected to hunting, fishing, and healthy ecosystems that support fish and wildlife populations in addition to feeding rural economies that rely on outdoor recreation,” John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told Hatch Magazine.
“Ninety percent of all stream miles in some states are intermittent or ephemeral. These headwater, intermittent and ephemeral waters feed the public drinking water supplies and support native trout fisheries. Moreover, 20 million acres of prairie potholes, America’s ‘duck factory,’ and other wetlands in the lower 48 states critical to migratory waterfowl production are considered isolated.”
Gale continued, explaining that “This rule also goes a step further to protect important agricultural practices by language that provides clarity through specific exemptions to give our country’s farms and ranches operational certainty. That never existed before, and those driven by special interests are doing whatever they can to strip away protections for every American who depends on clean water, whether they are drinking it from the faucet or standing in it while casting to trophy trout.”
Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership told Hatch Magazine that "Sportsmen support clean water because they understand the critical role it plays in healthy fish and wildlife habitat and our access to great places to hunt and fish. Continued confusion over which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act not only hurts America’s sportsmen and women—and undermines our ability to contribute to the $646-billion outdoor recreation economy—but also prevents farmers, ranchers, and other industries from doing business with transparency and certainty."
President of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Ben Bulis, commented that “President Donald Trump noted yesterday in his inauguration speech that the ‘power’ is going back to the people, not those in Washington, D.C.," adding, "I hope he listens to the 100's of millions of sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts that rely on clean water. We will do everything we can to protect and preserve the Waters of the U.S. and look forward to representing our industry with the new administration.”
For many, Trump's pronouncement has served as further proof that immediate action is necessary. Todd Tanner, president of Conservation Hawks urged anglers, other sportsmen and anyone else concerned about clean water protections take immediate action to make their voices heard. Tanner noted, “The Trump administration has pledged to fight against the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. That’s a direct attack on sportsmen, and on our kids and grandkids. Anglers should call the White House, explain that fishermen need clean waters and a stable climate, and ask President Trump to support common-sense regulations — regulations like the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule — that invigorate our economy and protect our landscapes.”
Update: Article was updated to include statement from Conservation Hawks.