A small fish continues to make a big splash on the economy of the greater 7 Rivers Region.
That’s important to remember whenever anyone is tempted to frame arguments pitting business against environmental concerns.
When done well from a policy standpoint, having a clean, inviting environment is very good for business.
It’s good for all of us.
Take trout fishing.
A new study shows trout fishing brings in $952 million each year to the Driftless Area, according to a study was commissioned by Trout Unlimited and conducted by University of Wisconsin-La Crosse economics professor Donna Anderson.
The ripple effect -- some $1.6 billion -- has grown by $500 million since the last study was conducted in 2008.
While we think of the Wisconsin portion, the Driftless takes in a 24,000-mile region of bluffs and rivers in our part of the Badger state, Minnesota, Iowa and dipping into Illinois.
Why do people travel here to fish in our backyard? The fishing is spectacular. So is the scenery.
Clearly, having nearly 6,000 miles of spring-fed streams is a terrific draw. And, with the hospitality provided by the people of our region, people keep coming back.
They fish, they stay a couple of days, they bring friends and they eat and have fun while they’re here.
Luke Zahm, co-owner of the award-winning Driftless Café in Viroqua, has a phrase for it: “We call it the cold-water economy.”
Zahm said the money spent in restaurants helps fuel purchases from local farmers, among other goods and services.
It’s crucial to remember that some of these streams have undergone habitat restoration and preservation efforts, meaning better places to fish.
During the past decade, conservation enthusiasts have leveraged millions of dollars in federal, state and local funding to help develop 300 restoration projects.
That’s a lot of volunteer time and a lot of teamwork involving such groups as Trout Unlimited, private businesses and government.
It also represents a lot of dedication and investment.
Our healthy trout economy underscores why it’s so important to have healthy fish, healthy waters and a healthy respect for our beautiful region.
It also shows why we can’t take any of that for granted.