By Chris Wood
So, I wrote a letter to Jeep.
They ran an ad in the Super Bowl called “The Road,” that showed a Jeep running up the center of what looked like a stream. My eight year old son turned to me after it ran and said, “Dad, isn’t that really bad for the stream?”
A few days after sending the letter, I had a very constructive call with the head of communications for Fiat-Chrysler. He explained that the “creek” was actually a flooded county road, and said that Jeep would make that clear on the internet where the ad now lives. He understood my concerns and said he would try to arrange a meeting for me with Jeep, a brand that promotes getting people into the outdoors—something we at Trout Unlimited support, too.
Then the Associate Press picked up the story. I expected that TU members and supporters would back me up, and they did. What I did not expect was the backlash from some in the off-road vehicle community. I was accused of perpetuating the “over sensitivity that is ruining America today”; told that I am “part of what’s wrong with this world;” and cursed at.
I received a few calls, too. One retired veteran called around 9pm frustrated by my letter. He said he longed for a previous era where people weren’t so sensitive, and that he didn’t defend the country for 20 years for a bunch of snowflakes. By the end of the call, he wanted to help out with TU’s Veterans Service Partnership.
One heavy equipment contractor in California wrote me an unhappy note, and I called him the next day. He described how people who lived in the Sierra’s resented people from places such as San Francisco telling them how to use the lands they lived and loved. He is an off-roader, and a stream restoration specialist. I paid particular attention to what he said.
Many people in America today, feel that they are losing control of their traditions, pasttimes, and passions to “urban elites” or “wealthy people from elsewhere.” The backlash against my letter to Jeep echoed and then magnified that sense of losing control. As anglers, we know this, too. How many places that we used to fish or hunt are now posted? The lack of access for fishing (and hunting) is the primary concern of sportsmen and women all around the country. In fact, TU has a group focused on gaining public access by working with land trusts and has invested countless hours fighting for access in state legislatures.
Then I spoke to Pam Harrington, who works for TU in Nevada and Idaho, and the light turned on. So much of our dialogue today is driven by the politics of division. The internet fuels the flames. Conversation and working together are out the window, and replaced by keyboard warriors.
But in the real world, people do work together. Pam sent me a video an off-roader driving up the center of Sinker Creek in Idaho. TU had worked for years with a variety of partners to restore the stream for Owyhee Redband trout, a rare trout species.
What happened next? Not one, but seven different local off-road vehicle clubs worked with Pam and others in Trout Unlimited to repair the damage and improve Sinker Creek. That is what America, and Trout Unlimited, are all about. Not angry rhetoric and flaming emails; we are defined by people coming together to protect and restore the places we live and love.
I look forward to meeting with the people at Jeep.
— Chris Wood