By David Gregory

The Merced River is my favorite place in the country — there is reverence and history here. John Muir once wrote of the area, “The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God.” I could not agree more. Spectacular spring flower blooms and the river’s cool, crystal waters are some of the natural wonders that make this place a living temple.

This magical river can be an incredible trout fishery. I love every memory I have created here over the years, and the tranquility that comes from fishing and boulder-hopping through endless stretches of glorious granite.

From its source in the high country of Yosemite National Park, the Merced tumbles down between the Stanislaus and Sierra National Forests before watering fields and towns in the Central Valley. From the river’s headwaters and tributaries flow clean, cold water, good for trout and people. Anglers can access virtually all of this — forests, mountains, and fishing opportunities — because it’s mostly public land.

Public lands matter to me as an angler, but especially as a licensed fly-fishing guide and small-business owner. Without them, I would not have the same opportunities to introduce clients and family members to these great places. Public lands rivers like the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus bring millions in tourism and outdoor recreation dollars to our region each year, largely because they have been reasonably well protected and provide plenty of public access.

The importance of public lands and rivers for our region is borne out by the numbers. In 2015, there were 2,529,992 sport fishing licenses issued in California. Well over ten thousand of those license buyers were permanent residents of Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Mariposa counties. According to the American Sportfishing Association, the economic output of anglers in the 4th Congressional District that year was $120.6 million.

It seems public lands are one of the few things Americans can agree on these days. A Congress that can’t seem to agree on much else, and a president whose treatment of public lands has been less than stellar thus far, just enacted a package of lands bills that will better protect a lot of important fish and wildlife habitat across the country and improve access for hunting and fishing.

Several California trout streams gained new protections under this legislation, including segments of Deep Creek and the Whitewater River, two of the few trout streams near the greater Los Angeles metro area. It also permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, perhaps the most effective federal program ever for conserving habitat and enhancing access for sportsmen.

I appreciate Congressman McClintock voting for this legislative package, which was carefully constructed over years of bipartisan effort and passed with huge majorities in both the House and Senate. I believe this is attributable to the importance of the nation’s growing outdoor recreation economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, California’s outdoor recreation economy generates $92 billion in annual spending and supports 691,000 jobs statewide. Residents of the 4th Congressional District spend $2.03 billion every year on outdoor recreation, and the many options for outdoor recreation here are the reason why at least 94 outdoor companies (including mine) are headquartered here.

I very much hope President Trump’s and Mr. McClintock’s support for the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act signals a new willingness on their parts to look seriously at ways to better protect our remaining fish and game habitat, and to enhance the public’s ability to enjoy it. The continued growth and success of my business depends on it.

David Gregory owns Yosemite Outfitters.

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