#NoNetLoss Campaign & Public Trout Water Access

#NoNetLoss Campaign & Public Trout Water Access

North Carolina can claim more than 3,000 miles of mountain trout streams and rivers. It’s all here: High-elevation headwaters that hold vibrant populations of wild, native brook trout. Stunning pool-and-drop freestone streams where wild rainbows and brown trout thrive. A robust put-and-take fishery and even easy-to-fish lakes and ponds. It’s all here. But none of it can be taken for granted.

New regulations passed in 2019 were a wake-up call for public waters trout anglers. Access to streams continues to erode. Private landowners who have long allowed the public to cross their lands to access public waters continue to face issues such as litter, vandalism, and poor sporting behavior. Programs used in other states to support private landowners willing to allow public access to fishing grounds have not been implemented in North Carolina. A huge opportunity exists for North Carolina anglers to engage and partner with the state and with private landowners to keep the state’s trout fishing reputation as clear and clean as so many of our waters.

NC BHA is working actively on this issue. From meetings among NC BHA board members with representatives from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, other NGOs, and other state and regional agencies we have developed the No Net Loss campaign. 

Western North Carolina trout waters have seen a precipitous decline in accessible stretches for nearly two decades. In fact, a very conservative estimate focusing only on regulatory changes shows that NC anglers have lost access to nearly 250 miles of Public Mountain Trout Waters (PMTW). While initial meetings focused on blunting the sharp decline a meeting with the executive director of WRC as well as the organization’s Coldwater Research and Regional Fisheries teams revealed the need to shift the conversation from “How can we help?” to “How can we achieve?” 

Ultimately, a reversal would be fantastic. That is, gaining back lost mileage and opening up new stretches that result in a net gain would be incredible. However, all good goals should be aggressive, measurable, and attainable. Realistically, it will take some years to achieve #NoNetLoss, but by striving for that target we can rally our partners and anglers around a common goal, elevate awareness and education, and allow us to achieve mitigation on the way. 

We are working to establish a stream access partnership with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and other conservation partners throughout the state to target immediate impact opportunities to temper access loss due to private landowner withdrawal from public access programs and improper no trespass posting on rightful public access points. We also are exploring ways to develop outreach material for landowners, anglers, and law enforcement and are seeking to develop and pursue a long-term Stream Access Law solution.

There should be ways for local anglers to work side-by-side with private landowners and public agencies to resolve issues about public access. No one loves the wild places where trout live like trout anglers, and NC BHA is committed for the long term to work on the ground, on the river, in local natural resource agency offices, and in the state legislature to keep North Carolina’s legacy of public waters trout fishing a proud tradition.

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