Fishing Conservation photo

Photograph courtesy of Jar O./Flickr

Few recent conservation battles have been better at showing sportsmen just what they can still accomplish, and who their true friends are in Congress, than the fight over the clean water rule.

This week was another example. On Tuesday the Senate effectively killed the cynically titled “Federal Water Quality Protection Act”, S.1140. The only thing this act would have protected was the continued loss of protection for 20 million acres of wetlands critical to fish and wildlife – including most waterfowl nesting grounds and cold-water trout streams – not to mention human health. This protection had existed under the Clean Water Act from the early 1970s until the mid-’80s, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of developers who claimed that Congress had never intended them to be saved.

Ever since then, sportsmen and other conservation groups have been pushing for Congress to reinstate the protections by writing new laws. They were opposed by congressmen who preferred to protect some developers and some agricultural interests.

Sportsmen finally won part of the battle when the Obama Administration issued a new rule restoring some, but not all, of the protections. Ever since then, congressional opponents have been trying everything to keep the rule from being enacted.

This bill was the latest attempt.

But even as sportsmen’s groups celebrated its demise this week, they were also realistic. As the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership pointed out, “Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa has called for the use of the Congressional Review Act to overturn the current rule and prevent any future rulemaking.”

This week’s vote to stop this bad bill was supported by every major sportsman’s group in the nation – a community that has long supported addressing those Supreme Court rulings, and that supports the new Obama Administration rule. In fact, a recent poll showed that in the sporting community – as in the nation as a whole – support for environmental protections like this one cut across political ideological lines. A majority of the sportsmen who identified as Tea Partiers and Republicans supported the rule.

But this week’s vote showed the people they sent to the Senate don’t support them, at least on this issue. This was pretty much a party-line vote, with most Senate Democrats supporting the position taken by sportsmen’s groups, and the GOP voting against what is best for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

That’s not me opining, that’s reporting based on the actual vote, and on comments from Sen. John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, and one of the bill’s authors.

“Unfortunately, a majority of Senate Democrats blocked an opportunity to stop this rule, but my colleagues and I will continue to fight to overturn this massive overstep,” he said in a story posted by KELO Radio in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

So this fight is far from over. But it is an election season. Sportsmen would be wise to contact their congressional delegation and let them know where they stand on this issue.

Then be sure to follow-up after a vote like this and let them know how happy – or mad – you are.