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If you’re a hunter you’ve probably been asked this question: How can you love an animal and then kill it?

There are lots of ways to answer that, but one of the best is that sportsmen’s investment in the resources we hunt and fish—through license sales and taxes on sporting equipment—funds habitat work and wildlife management. But there’s another way to answer: sportsmen have the most intimate relationships with the places and the species we hunt and fish, and will advocate for them more intensely than any other group.

I bring up this perspective, because it’s at the heart of the story of the Michigan brook trout we’ve been covering here.

To put it bluntly, if more people could fish for these amazing Upper Peninsula trout, more people would care about their welfare. That constituency of anglers might be enough to stop a nickel and copper mine that some believe could be the nail in the coffin of the Salmon Trout River’s population of coaster brook trout.

Just last month, on May 6, the Huron Mountain Club filed suit in federal court against Kennecott Minerals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers claiming Kennecott did not obtain the proper permits to begin construction of its Eagle mine (construction began in 2010) in the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River. Mine opponents claim that sediment from the metals mine could contaminate the Salmon Trout River and imperil its fishery.

While the club battles the mine, and continues to advocate that the Salmon Trout coasters are deserving of Endangered Species Act protection, it continues to participate in a study of the life history and habitat preferences of the coasters. That study, and a desire to limit angler-caused mortality while it is ongoing, is one reason why the club is taking a hard-nosed stance against public access on the river, as we’ve reported in previous posts.

“I am not an official spokesperson for the club,” says Harry Campbell. “I’m just a member voicing my views. But we have to protect those trout. They are not hard to catch when you start using spinners and live bait,” Campbell says.

Campbell is an avid trout angler with a genuine concern over the future of coaster trout in the Salmon Trout River. And Campbell is proud of his membership and role in the Huron Mountain Club – a club often described as a “conservation” club with a strong “conservation” ethic.

“Conservation” is the key word. And perhaps the solution to this issue lies within that simple, powerful word.

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is what separates this country’s wildlife management system and conservation successes from those of others. The North American Model is a stunningly powerful, simple system comprised of seven principles – including the notion that the public owns all fish and wildlife and that access to fish and wildlife should be made available to all.

If the Huron Mountain Club truly wants nothing more than to protect coaster brook trout, why not help craft a system of public access that encourages all to work for the establishment of protections for the fish that all can enjoy? Why not preserve the public access and engage the public in the future of those fish?

“Speaking as a member of the fish committee, I think that is something the club would discuss,” Campbell says. “But only if there were assurances that the (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) would establish no-kill, single, barbless hook regulations. There would have to be iron-clad assurances there.”

I don’t know if I truly believe the club would maintain public access should they win their appeal and regain ownership of the road and bridge. But Campbell saying the club may be willing to discuss it provides a glimmer of hope.

And perhaps they could consider a passage from Aldo Leopold’s 90-year-old report on the Huron Mountain Club while they do: “All earth-sciences must, in the long run, learn how to use land by referring to unused land as a base-datum or starting point. Whoever owns such lands will one day find it in demand for scientific investigations . . .The Club has not only a unique property, but a large opportunity for public service in science and conservation.”

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