Saving America's Great Outdoors

Q&A with fisherman Kenny Wright

The Obama administration has unveiled a new America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which seeks to protect nature and our connections to it. Since preserving our nation’s rivers, lakes and coasts is an important part of the program, talked to Kenny Wright, a conservationist and recreational fisherman from Belleair Beach, FL, to find out why he thinks saving America’s land and water for people and nature is so important.

You grew up fishing off Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands along the Gulf Coast. Tell us how that area has changed over the years.

Kenny Wright:

I learned how to fish on Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands for snook, redfish and trout, like most kids I knew. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this area is one of the few truly unspoiled islands along the Florida coast. Because they are State Parks, the areas really haven’t changed too much – other than shifting sandbars and other natural changes. I wish more places were similarly protected. Recently during my career and personal life I’ve witnessed some worrisome changes in one of our most valuable resources: nature. From declining fish population and polluted waters, to the loss of coastal habitats like seagrass meadows and mangroves, we are simply putting too much pressure on the waters and lands we depend upon for the health of our communities.

My career has led me to visit coastal habitats from the Florida Keys up the Gulf Coast all the way to South Texas. I can safely say that habitat loss is happening everywhere and we can’t keep up with the pace of destruction. In Florida alone, we have lost more than 60% of our estuarine habitats in the last five decades. If we lose these “safe havens” for snook, redfish and trout, we also lose the fish. We can turn the tide on these losses but we have to be willing to restore more of our coastal areas and waters, and we need the help of our national leaders to do this.

What do you most hope to see in the America’s Great Outdoors report and recommendations and how do you think this national program will help Florida and the Gulf Coast?

Kenny Wright:

The America’s Great Outdoors initiative should preserve parks and wildlife areas, which in turn support jobs and help local economies by encouraging outdoor recreation and tourism. It’s such a good idea because an investment in our lands and waters is an investment in America. If you go to Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands you will see a State Park with thousands of visitors while remaining protected and pristine. You can fish there and besides a few pole and troll areas, the surrounding waters are open and some of the best fishing grounds in the State of Florida.

As you know, The Nature Conservancy is urging Congress to enact legislation that provides full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which can be an important source of funds for saving the great outdoors. How has this important federal program benefited Florida and other areas along the Gulf Coast?

Kenny Wright:

Caladesi State Park was one of the first places to benefit from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the late 60s. Everglades National Park, Big Cypress, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Biscayne National Park and Pelican Island have also been supported by LWCF. By protecting these special places, we’ve attracted tourism, provided jobs and protected Florida’s unique outdoor way of life.

Why do you believe outdoor recreation is such an important part of our lives and what else can we do to help Americans connect with nature?

Kenny Wright:

I meet recreational and commercial fishermen in my line of work who feel that when programs such as the conservation of lands are implemented, access is restricted and the areas are closed off entirely. This simply is not true; the very place I caught my first snook was protected by LWCF. Americans continue to have full access to the beautiful wildlife and nature this area has to offer and they should get out and enjoy it! When you actively enjoy and embrace the world around you, you have a greater sense of respect for nature. We would need less protection measures if more members of our community actually were outdoorsmen and anglers. I never thought of myself as a conservationist until a career change almost four years ago led me to a restoration contracting business. This change only made me realize that I have been a conservationist my entire life—I just didn’t realize it. I hope my three small children will embrace fishing and conservation the way I have and be active in the work to protect and restore the natural world around us.

We need to focus on not only protecting natural areas, but also restoring areas to a pristine state for the enjoyment of future generations. Many of these areas cannot heal themselves and will continue to disappear if we don’t actively restore them so our children and grandchildren’s catches will even mirror our catches as kids.



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