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Private To Public And Back Again

Private To Public And Back Again

A small trout stream in West Virginia has been converted from a private fishery to a public resource. Over a mile of Spring Run creek and an associated property parcel in Grant County will be purchased by the state to be made available for open access.

As reported by the West Virginia Metro News, "The Division of Natural Resources announced at the recent meeting of the Natural Resources Commission plans to purchase a 140 acre tract of land which includes a little more than a mile of stream along Spring Run near the community of Dorcas."

"For probably more than 40 or 50 years it's been managed as a fly fishing only, catch and release stream," said Brett Preston, Assistant Chief of Fisheries for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. "We thought it was important to continue that management as we acquire the property."

The policy decision was in keeping with the wishes of the previous owner,  Jerry Burke, who was adamant about maintaining the integrity of the stream and required strict adherence to his rules over five decades.

While not without precedent, these kinds of purchases are to be celebrated, especially in a state like West Virginia, where there is a perception that much natural resource has been impacted by industrial activity.  My first awareness of this kind of departmental vision in resource management was in the early 90's when a fantastic stretch of water on the Williams Fork of the Colorado river near Parshall, Colorado was opened up after 100 years as a private ranch holding.  The high altitude tail water below Williams Fork Reservoir continues to be one of the crown jewels for fly fishing in the state, producing larger than average Rainbows who prefer the colder water below the dam to the more variable and relatively warmer flows of the main stem of the river, which is an excellent Brown Trout fishery.

The Spring Run purchase comes at an interesting time regarding policy shifts over public lands. Recent actions at the Federal level have included the introduction of Bills intended to make large amounts of public lands available for private, and potentially industrial, purchase -- the inverse of the West Virginia initiative.

One of the Bills, H.R. 621, introduced by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), experienced considerable blow back from sportsmen and the outdoor industry itself, prompting Chaffetz publicly state that he would  withdraw the Bill in response to a barrage of calls and letters from angry constituents. The last update on the Bill indicates that the document has been referred to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands.

However, there are currently other provisions for private purchase of federal lands, providing that certain regulatory requirements are met. Some parcels currently available provide access to critical stream and river habitats, and could be potentially excellent subjects for private philanthropists looking for tax deductible investments that could then be turned into publicly accessible angling resources.

At a global environmental advocacy level, this type of precedent has already been set in Southern Chile.  The late Doug Tompkins and his wife, Patagonia business cofounder Kris McDivitt used their personal fortunes to purchase large private land holdings in Chile, which were then turned into nonprofit corporations and dedicated as the worlds first private national parks to be managed in perpetuity by a board of directors. -- and then donated back to the country of Chile, where they are now considered national treasures.

Many new strategies may have to be employed in the future to protect resources and access, with efforts in both the private sector and with agency policy requiring increased awareness and support from sportsmen. The traditional model of public interest being managed by the state may now be open to interpretation, with solutions turning historical ideas upside down.


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