April 28, 2013
Like This: Social Media Helps Challenge Cumberland River Tailwater Closures - 2
by Tony Hansen
If you've ever felt that your voice can't be heard, you might want to tune in to the battle raging over angler access on the Cumberland River. And be ready to click that "like" button.
If you'll recall an Open Country post in December of 2012 revealed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to close tailrace areas below dams on the Cumberland River to fishing. Its reasoning? "Public Safety." That’s a curious citation given that there have been just eight boating-related deaths below Tennessee Corps projects since 1978 and only about two percent of all deaths on the river system occurred below dams.
Yet the Corps seems to believe that there is a pending safety issue and the only way to address it is to completely block boater access below the dams. If you happen to live in the affected areas, you know just how popular those tailrace areas are for anglers. And for good reason: They're high quality fishing areas.
It also seems the Corps felt this issue wasn't worth mentioning until it was time to start putting up barriers. An internal memo obtained by the folks at WZTV Fox 17 news in Nashville, TN revealed that the Corps' plan to close access to the dams has been in existence since 2010. It also admits that there is some dissention within the ranks of the Corps and advises staff to stick to the company line.
Perhaps the Corps assumed that by hiding the plan for two years and unveiling it just prior to locking anglers out of public waters, any resistance from anglers would be too scattered to matter.
Clearly, it overlooked the power of Facebook.
Social media has proven to be a highly effective method of grassroots advocacy. Hundreds of anglers and concerned citizens have attended public meetings throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. Many of them have found the meetings through social media posts and they arrive well armed with information and documents shared on Facebook.
Doug Markham, who hosts an outdoors radio show in Tennessee, could be considered the orchestrator of this movement. His Facebook page is a hub of information and updates on the issue. And many of the recent posts have shown positive movement against the Corps' plan.
On Markham's page, you'll find a transcript of statements made by Ed Carter, Director of the TWRA, spoke at one of the public gatherings on Feb. 5 in Nashville. The Director stated in fairly plain language that the TWRA in no way supports the Corps' closure.
"These areas below dams are of great significance to fishermen and I, again, thank you for the time to speak on this very important topic. I am asking that the Corps delay any program to restrict these areas until meaningful discussions have taken place to seek alternatives to the present proposal.
"I will end by simply saying that I believe that we can positively address the safety, recreation, economics, and liability issues by enhancing current safety measures and thereby avoid a costly initiative that would result in the closure of some of the most important fishery zones in our state."
The page also has a copy of a letter dated Feb. 5, 2013, from Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear to Lt. Colonel James DeLapp, head of the Nashville District of the Army Corps of Engineers, urging him to "reconsider this decision and to halt plans to barricade access until further deliberation can be given to its impact."
There's a copy of a letter from Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell opposing the Corps actions and there's also one signed by several of Tennessee's congressional members asking the same.
A draft of Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield's bill that would halt the Corps' actions is also posted.
It's a social media groundswell that appears to be making a difference.
About Open Country
Hunters and anglers across the nation consistently list one challenge as their primary obstacle to spending more time in the field: Access.
Outdoor Life’s Open Country program aims to tackle that issue head on and with boots on the ground. The program highlights volunteer-driven efforts to improve access along with habitat improvements to make existing public lands even better places to hunt and fish. The program's goal is to substantially increase sportsman's access across the country by promoting events that make a difference.
The Open Country program culminates in an awards system with top projects and participants being honored during a gala at the 2014 SHOT Show in January.