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Walter Rodgers

Grizzly encounters and other reasons for federal regulations

My Alaska encounters with fly fishing and grizzly bears reveal how much America benefits from federal regulations. Without them, this pristine wilderness would likely not exist, and neither would many protections for consumers and workers.

By Walter Rodgers / August 19, 2011



Imagine standing 40 yards across a river from a good-sized Alaskan grizzly bear emerging out of willow scrub. There is no tree to climb.

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We regard each other, yet both of us go about our business. The grizzly is fishing for spawning sockeye salmon. I am trying to raise a meaty rainbow trout or a Dolly Varden on a fly resembling a salmon egg. We share 100 miles of the Kanektok River because the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge is strictly regulated by both the federal government and the state of Alaska. I encounter two, three, and sometimes more grizzlies a day. There are plenty of fish for all of us. This is the tundra as God made it.

But, absent federal regulation, this primordial wilderness would likely not exist. It was saved in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter and Congress worked to preserve Alaskan wilderness refuges, creating enclaves the size of California.

Unnecessary? Fishermen in the Lower 48 boast about “harvesting” less regulated rivers in Oregon using illegal “power bait” or “DuPont spinners” – dynamite – to fill their freezers with salmon.

Casting an orange fly toward the bear, I think that without stringent federal regulation, there would be scores of private fishing lodges and jet boats racing about. Instead of catching (and releasing) 250 salmon, grayling, and trout in a week, my take might be a fraction of that. The bears might well be rugs in some corporate chief executive’s office.

Regulations protect the weak, even bears

As the debt ceiling talks raged in Washington and GOP candidates talked of overturning “Obamacareand new financial oversight, certain undeniable realties crept into thought as I stood in the sub-Arctic river. First, that while law is the glue that holds a society together, it’s state and federal regulations that are the discipline protecting the weak and vulnerable (including bears), who, without government oversight, can’t protect themselves.

True, the government does not always know best and federal regulations are ever ripe for a case-by-case review. But it is also demonstrably true that business and industry without federal oversight can behave shamelessly.

Millions of Americans remain jobless and homeless because of the recent mortgage debt crisis. The laissez-faire, nonregulatory attitude of the previous Republican administration fed the fantasy – also promoted by the Clinton White House – that everyone was qualified for pipe-dream loans.

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