Bob Boese, Louisiana

May 4th, 2009

A New Environmentalist
On My Soapbox, Again
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

Fly fishers are the true environmentalists.

You don't have to be old as dirt to remember when only about six people ever heard of the fly fisherman Aldo Leopold. Who? See what I mean.

In the 50s (had we ever heard of him) we would have called him a "conservationist," which is not an insult, for he was an ardent angler and hunter who had a master of forestry degree from Yale University and worked for the Forest Service. Leopold first wrote Game Management (1933) in which he discussed preserving natural resources through a combination of silviculture/forestry, agriculture, biology/zoology, ecology, and education. He later wrote his most famous essays (published posthumously in 1949) in which he recognized that there was an ecological crisis even then and that it had philosophical roots. Like Emerson and Thoreau, he spent a lot of time with a fishing rod in his hands and used his time on the streams as an opportunity to contemplate his surroundings. Environmental problems were arising, he said, because of how people thought of their environment. His essays addressed a wide spectrum of environmental issues such as the death of a species, a land ethic and conservation.

His "land ethic"sounds as if it could be extremist-speak, but it simply enlarged the boundaries of the global community we all share to include soils, waters, plants, and animals – collectively: the land. Here's how he put it:

"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the land… The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and cooperate with each other. The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them – cautiously – but not abolish them…If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."

In other words, don't go killing and spoiling everything, just because you can.

In the 50s and 60s most Americans didn't think about the year 2008, except in terms of what sci-fi predicted, like flying cars and robot butlers and surviving World War III. Killing things and spoiling nature were more a way of life than a life style choice. Trophy hunting, especially big game, was envied, and catching or shooting only what you could eat was rarely a consideration. Catch and release meant you needed a better District Attorney, and a wetlands was some swamp that needed to be reclaimed before it spawned monsters with an appetite for buxom blondes. Curiously, deer tags were scarcer than they are today, but that was because without them there would have been wholesale slaughter. A bad day on Pecan Island was less than thirty ducks a man. Two or three hundred Spanish mackerel per fisherman in Lake Pontchartrain was just average. It was the same mentality that led some neo-barbarians to arrange cock and dog fights. Today the politically correct description of these activities is "repugnant" or "horrid" or "despicable" or….you get the idea. But (except maybe for the dog fighting) we didn't think of any of it as wrong. It was just how things were…sort of like bar brawls and bordellos in St. Landry Parish. And no one had heard of Leopold.

Of course, when Leopold's essays were reprinted in 1987, they took on a whole new meaning to the left-wing bleeding-heart knee-jerk ultra-liberal tree-hugging bunny-kissing pinkos. Suddenly, non-humans were as valuable as humans, and hunters and fishermen were evil incarnate. Federal agencies (minions-of-the-socialist-devil), got tired of respecting private property, suddenly made it a life's goal to eat away at the fabric of the 5th Amendment (not that part, the property rights part) for the good of the environment.

Thibeaux died and found himself in the presence of Satan. The great devil spoke in a voice that had terrified countless generations. "You are damned!" the devil yelled …and Thibeaux yawned.

Beelzebub turned himself into his most horrifying countenance and yelled again "Kneel before me weak mortal!"

…and Thibeaux crossed him arms and sighed distractedly. The Prince of Darkness got down from his brimstone throne and threatened Thibeaux with a huge fiery trident. "Eternal torture awaits you, man!"

…and Thibeaux shook his head and "tsk-tsked."

"You must fear me!" Lucifer demanded. "Why don't you fear me?!"

Thibeaux looked up at Old Nick and answered, "because I've been married to your sister for 35 years, and she does it much better than you."

Extremist groups like PETA have gained popularity among the leftist media and socially elite crowd, because the liberal press and social sycophants either don't know any better, or do and are trying to force their own moral code on the rest of us. In the 50s we called that sort of thing the red menace. In the 70s, the bunny-kissers started using a word which, if we had ever heard of it at all, we had only heard teachers use in a grammatical context – paradigm. Now this perfectly good word used to mean something that was little more than "a typical example of word forms," but …when the new "environmentalists" saw that a "shift" was possible, the term became to mean a change from the old ways to what they saw as right thinking. Right thinking? Oh yes, the "paradigm shift" meant all Americans should be thinking, believing, expressing, espousing and mandating the bunny-kissers' opinions – without the need for scientific explanation. Thus arose a new breed – the environmental "ethicist." For the most part, these are self proclaimed experts (although some are actually degreed in ethical philosophy) on morals and rightness. Curiously, to be an environmental ethicist, your view of ethics must conform to the code of right thinking. Conservatives and sportsmen don't qualify.

Which brings us back to fishing. PETA hates fishing and would ban it everywhere. Their reason (other than their pleasure in taking away something you enjoy) is that it is painful to fish. [To see some typical PETA anti-fishing propaganda go to .]

Fact: fish do not feel pain. The neocortex of the human cerebral hemispheres is responsible for our ability to experience emotions and sensations such as pain. The existence of this feature in the fish brain would strengthen a PETA argument for the ability of fish to experience pain. It would… if fish had this anatomical component. Instead, the fish brain is dominated by brainstem components and features very primitive cerebral hemispheres that lack the neocortex. Dr. James Rose of the University of Wyoming has explained the distinction between reaction to injury and psychological experience of pain and emphasizes that the existence of the former does not evidence the existence of the latter. Sensation of and reaction to noxious, or potentially harmful, stimuli can and does occur without the experience of pain.

This is hard for humans to understand because pain is so familiar to us. Reaction with or without pain is related to "nociception." Nociception refers to the detection of noxious stimuli by the nervous system. Certain nervous system receptors – nociceptors – sense unpleasant stimuli and report to the central nervous system where motor responses are initiated and the sensation of pain is perceived. That is, when damage happens somewhere on your body, appropriate signals are sent to your brain which translates these into pain. While some fish have nociceptors, this only means that they are capable of sensing noxious stimuli. Damage to fish causes a signal that produces a sensory reaction but the fish has no neocortex to translate the signal into pain. Voila! There is no scientific evidence for fish to have the psychological experience of pain. No more discussion necessary, right? Not for PETA.

Want to walk in PETAs shoes? Okay, first you have to forget science. Now, you must do some right thinking, that is, rationalize that while fish have a different system of nociception and brain function from mammals and don't actually experience the precise sensation of pain that humans do, this does not mean that fish are incapable of experiencing a negative psychological state analogous to human pain in response to noxious stimuli. Yes, fish experience discomfort and fear, so you must interpolate this as psychological trauma. And, because you want to, you call this response "pain."

Confused yet? Then pay attention fish-hurter-person! PETA wants you to assume that because fish have instinctive reactions to avoid being damaged or dinner, the fish convert this negative stimuli into an unpleasant psychological state that is equivalent to pain. It may not actually be pain, but it's something, soooo‚it must be pain. Then (and here's where you need a fish whisperer) because there is no hard evidence that the neuro-physiology of fish supports a pain reaction (as humans perceive pain) the pinko-you must quietly slip past the scientific evidence part and assume what you want to be true is, in fact, true. Unfortunately, as Felix Unger proved, when you assume you make an "ass" of "u" and "me."

Today's fly fishermen are true environmentalists. Catch and release is now habitual and rarely are predator species taken for food. Gaffing and stringers are history and modern texts do not refer to catching as "killing" (which was the common term in classic British fishing tomes). By and large, fly fishermen have an ethical code of which Leopold would approve. Leopold wrote of wasteful activities as follows:

"Voluntary adherence to an ethical code elevates the self-respect of the sportsman, but it should not be forgotten that voluntary disregard of the code degenerates and depraves him. For example, a common denominator of all sporting codes is not to waste good meat. Yet it is now a demonstrable fact that Wisconsin deer-hunters, in their pursuit of a legal buck, kill and abandon in the woods at least one doe, fawn, or spike buck for every two legal bucks taken out. In other words, approximately half the hunters shoot any deer until a legal deer is killed. The illegal carcasses are left where they fall. Such deer-hunting is not only without social value, but constitutes actual training for ethical depravity elsewhere."

It may not be solely because we are fly fishers, but you don't hear about serial killers garroting victims with WF8F, or terrorists trading in their fly vests for dynamite jackets, or zealots highjacking planes with nippers. Neither do we destroy the resources we cherish and we proudly support rescue and rehabilitation efforts for species and waterways. Leopold was recently the subject of an exhibition produced by the American Museum of Fly Fishing (California) and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center (Wisconsin) proudly holds fishing events in the Leopold pond. Fly fishers are true environmentalists. Consider that the FFF Code of Ethics explains:

Fly anglers strive to understand and practice the land ethic of Aldo Leopold, which extends ethical consideration to the land, plants, animals, fish, and water that comprise the entire ecosystem. An important part of this land ethic is that fly anglers support those programs that sustain high species diversity, and do not support policies that could cause the premature extinction of another species. The Native Fish Policy of the Federation of Fly Fishers is based on this ethic of preventing fish species extinction.

Aldo Leopold, father of wildlife ecology and hero of the modern environmentalist, loved fly fishing. PETA will never understand… because they don't want to. ~ Bob Boese (coach)

Credits/references: A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, Oxford University Press, New York 1949, reprinted in Round River, Oxford University Press, New York 1987. 5th Amendment; "No person shall… be deprived of…property… without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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