Learning on the River



This summer I  spent weeks fishing on various rivers in Colorado and Wyoming.  You meet a different kind of entrepreneur on the river.  When they talk about government policy it is about the Division of Wildlife or the Bureau of Land Management, not the usual urban agencies.

In Wyoming one guide was upset about plans to open a beloved section of the river to more outfitters and to increase access  for rafters.  In Colorado another guide entered a zen state with his eyes rolling back as he described the size of the  rainbow trout population recovering from whirlings disease because of the DOW’s intervention.  Their livelihood is tied to rivers under the control of a hodgepodge of government agencies.

The Department of the Interior, the Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Forest Service and all their state variants can snuff out a fishing guide’s career in an afternoon.  I did not hear much about deficits, food stamps, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Syria, or the August Congressional recess. But the conservation part of the federal government that does impact the river is caught in the sequester.

All you really need to understand about the sequester is it temporarily cuts the parts of the federal government that in large part have nothing to do with the federal debt.  I began this blog some years ago with a post titled The National Parks Are Not Causing the Deficit .   My essential message was the federal government’s conservation agencies were effective and cost effective.  Given that why cut them to avoid cutting entitlements primarily benefiting retirees?

That was in July of 2011 before the sequester.

When you fish down a river in a raft or up a river wading it is a complex web of muscle memory and reading the riffles and eddies.  There is the wind.  There is the sun.  There is guy walking his dog along the edge or even in the water. There is what is going on upstream and what is going on downstream.

There is never a time when you can influence the river beyond your sight.  You have to trust that there is no pollution, the flows are healthy, there is no poaching, and those out of sight of good conscience will make your moments in the stream possible.  If something breaks down beyond your control, if someone violates your trust in the essential goodness of other Americans, that chance at a day in the river is gone forever.

And with it goes the entrepreneur’s chance at a day’s profit.  What policymakers so often fail to understand is that the chance to open and run a business exists in a moment in time.  It is not a continuous opportunity waiting for an election to generate rational policy.

A river guide or a farmer whose livelihood is stalled in a policy debate over months or years goes out of business or changes the business.  And they do it not because customers or the supply chain requires it, but because the government actively decides to introduce waste into the system.  For time is waste to an entrepreneur.

And like the moment in the river, the opportunity flows forever into history.


  1. I’m not quite drowning! – just flailing around (hope it looks like swimming). My take on government policy? Catch and release, catch and release …

    • I actually fell in the Arkansas below Salida – raft hit a rock, I was outside the brace, face plant in the river. Couple hundred yds of rapids before I got back in the boat!

      I’m afraid our friends in DC are determined to neither catch nor release, resolved to solve nothing important, while dithering away the present.


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