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Light torches, throw pebbles

I’ve often wondered if people would be more concerned if the increasing reports of Chronic Wasting Disease in North Dakota made the jump from a limited population of mule and whitetail deer into more uncommon species like the resident moose and elk in the state, as has occurred in Montana. It seems likely that more anglers would take notice if sedimentation, or worse, toxic chemicals from a trickle upstream ended up affecting the fishing on their favorite flow or at its end in the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Superior or Hudson Bay. If so, they may take more actions to change their world, and we’ve seen what can be done in just a few decades to make things better.

We’re quick to celebrate the reversal of threats like these long after their impact has been felt, as populations of lake sturgeon have been restored with stockings in places like the Rainy and now the St. Louis and even the Red River throughout the upper Midwest, simply through reducing pollution, removing obstructions and careful monitoring of these fish. Through those efforts, everything else in and connected to those waters has benefited: walleyes, turtles, ducks, suckers, clams and, ultimately, people. From the fishing guide to the hotel owner, to the citizen turning on the tap to make a pot of coffee in the morning, all have benefitted from regional efforts focused on a single species of fish due to the interconnectivity of all things. Positive actions for one thing often beget positive results for many others.

Leonardo da Vinci stated in his “Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind,” “…learn how to see. Realize that everything is connected to everything else.” As a layperson, I can’t even begin to grasp scientifically what shifts in nitrogen content or the addition of wind-blown dirt into a small creek will do downstream, but as an angler I can see the effects when waters become cloudy and fish become scarcer. My basic understanding is only a weak flicker against the wall in that darkened hall of interconnectivity, but with that little light comes the knowledge that our outdoor opportunities and their well-being are far more connected to other human activities in the world around us. Often, those experiences of an armchair scientist lead to the finding of a torch in the form of more information and the illumination of the rest of the hallway and a path forward, and the results of the one which helped us reach this point for better or worse. Hang the torch to light the way and pass the flame on to those who will venture forward to find solutions to the problems in nature, and ultimately for all humankind.

The young person you take fishing or teach to trap shoot or bow hunt may become the scientist that finds a way to stop those big game diseases, to more fully restore the flowing waters in our country and better manage fisheries for sport and sustenance. They may also find ways to make no-till agriculture the best and most cost-effective method of raising crops, or easier and less expensive ways to capture pollution from industry of all kinds, or a way to round up a mat of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean, all spurred on by a love of the outdoors. There is no telling the impact our interconnectivity will have long after we’re gone.

In regard to the impacts the actions of one person can have, the Dalai Lama said, “just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

Whether you prefer the fire or water analogy, take the lesson from both and realize how connected we all are, lighting as many torches as possible and throwing all the pebbles you can along your chosen path…in our outdoors.

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