Good afternoon. My name is Matt Vincent and I live about 130 miles east of here on the northeastern plains of Colorado near the border between Kansas and Nebraska.
For the past 30 years, I've been an outdoor journalist. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I've been an outdoor advocate, someone who believes wildlife conservation and outdoor sports like hunting and fishing are not mutually exclusive.
Everyone gathered here today shares a common bond. As sportsmen, we share the responsibility of protecting and preserving a national heritage.
Just like the American political landscape, outdoor interests are guided by special interest groups.
We have the National Wildlife Federation, the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and countless others both large and small.
And therein lies part of the problem. We are splintered and fractured like the liquid fingers of a river delta.
Hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, bird watchers, mountain bikers, rafters — everyone has a VESTED INTERESTED and a stake in the great outdoors. But we can't seem to agree on much. And because of it, we can't seem to influence Washington D.C. as it relates to sound natural resource policy.
I'm standing here today to tell you that this has to change. Now. Wildlife and wildlife habitat are under siege. And so are the rights of the sportsmen in America today.
Right now, today, we are facing public access issues, an increasing influx of exotic species, wildlife diseases, pollution of our air and water … and the list goes on.
Earlier this year, for example, a federal judge in Louisiana sided with corporate interests and private landowners in a decision that now denies recreational fishermen access to navigable waters on the Mississippi River. That decision is currently being appealed. But if left unchecked, the precedent that case establishes could seriously jeopardize public access at fisheries from the Columbia River to the Potomac.
Hunters have fared no better. Opportunities are disappearing or being eliminated altogether in some areas of the nation as private landowners have turned hunting into a commercial enterprise — available only to those who can afford to unlock the gates.
Meanwhile, entire ecosystems are on the verge of collapse. While pollution remains at the top of that list, we are now facing a tidal wave of exotics and mysterious pathogens that are turning the worlds of fish and wildlife upside down.
International trade and commercial transportation have bridged continents and have shattered natural barriers that once defined native habitat. Exotic species from Asia and Europe are now displacing our native species. And get this — our own government seems unable or unwilling to react in this time of great crisis.
Zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies, several species of Asian carp, northern snakehead fish …. THESE are the illegal immigrants that we should be worrying about.
And we're being hit by things we can't even see — pathogens and deadly viruses that were brought to our shores in the ballast of foreign ships. Like a smallpox outbreak, entire fisheries in the Northeast have been decimated by a fish-killing virus called VHS in which the flesh of fish hemorrhages and the fish quickly die.
Then there's the "largemouth bass virus" which has left biologists and resource managers with more questions than answers.
In the mountains not far from where we stand today, something called whirling disease has ripped apart many native trout fisheries. Our deer and elk are suffering from chronic wasting disease.
Trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs like birth control pills and Ritalin, and narcotics are flowing through our water supplies, altering the sexual characteristics of our fish ….
I could continue, but I won't.
The point I want to make is this: These issues and others can only be addressed and SOLVED through government action and common sense legislation.
As we all know, building consensus among all the various wildlife groups has been like trying to herd chickens in a high wind.
Some say it can't be done. I believe it can be done and MUST be done.
Like many of you, I'm here in Denver today hoping to build partnerships.
Think about it. If 50 million hunters and anglers could speak in a unified voice, we could honor the legacy of men like Theodore Roosevelt and other far-sighted leaders who long ago recognized the value of wildlife … and the necessity of PROTECTING wild lands, pristine waters and clean air.
Our outdoor heritage defines us as Americans. We must find a new way to speak as one.
Thank you for listening to my message. And welcome to Colorado!