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Sportsmen’s best friend is big government

Bruce Caruso organizer for Perch Americputs back an advanced growth walleye fingerling one 4300-plus stocked Wednesday Wolf Lake thflopped out

Bruce Caruso, organizer for Perch America, puts back an advanced growth walleye fingerling, one of the 4,300-plus stocked Wednesday at Wolf Lake, that flopped out during transfer from the fisheries truck. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:27AM

From walleye stocking in Wolf Lake to river otter trapping beginning again in Illinois, the importance of big government to 21st century conservation and sportsmen’s issues was driven home repeatedly in recent days.

Big government has been sucker-punched just as repeatedly in the rhetoric of this election.

Too often, we, especially as sportsmen, drift along oblivious or deliberately deluding ourselves to the absolutely central role big government holds in modern conservation.

Late last month, the point started rolling around my head when an online reader, a former Chicagoan, sent a note from Tacoma, Wash., about the dramatic changes in Chicago-area waterways.

‘‘The Des Plaines and Chicago rivers were open sewers, and the Fox wasn’t much better,’’ he emailed of his memories. ‘‘I’m amazed and gratified to read about smallmouth fishing in downtown Chicago, musky in the Fox, etc. I haven’t lived in Chicago since ’81 but would love to try some of these spots now. I guess some environmental regulations had a benefit.’’

I will state it more strongly. The 2000 BASS Master Classic never would have come to Chicago without the Clean Water Act being signed in 1972 by President Nixon and fairly well enforced in the four decades since.

There would not be rowing and fishing on the Chicago River like there is without the Clean Water Act; just as the idea of possibly swimming in it would be absurd otherwise.

There would be no point to stocking walleye in Wolf Lake, that tortured post-industrial water overlapping Chicago’s Southeast Side and northwest Indiana, if it weren’t for the Clean Water Act. Yet there were members of Perch America and others Wednesday afternoon on the Indiana side stocking 4,300 advanced growth walleye fingerlings (5 to 7 inches). That’s the 15th year for those stockings, paid for by personal and corporate funding. Bruce Caruso, organizer for the Perch America, said money came from BP, Hammond Port Authority, Lake County Fish and Game, Calumet Harbor Sportfishing Club and Mik-Lurch Fishing Tackle Outlet and, as usual, from donation jars set at Mik-Lurch and by Perch America at a couple winter outdoors shows. It raised $6,000 to buy the walleye fingerlings (Richmond Fisheries threw in some extras, too.)

On Monday, double reminders will come of the importance of big government in conservation.

In Illinois, trapping for river otters begins in the north zone, the first otter trapping season since 1929. That’s possible because of reintroduction by the Illinois DNR, beginning in the mid-1990s, that was so successful that otters have reached the Chicago River.

In Indiana, ‘‘Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh’’ debuts at 8 p.m. Monday on WYIN (Merrillville). The one-hour documentary follows the Grand Kankakee Marsh through history and is a testament to many groups providing funding and to Pat Wisniewski, Jeff Manes, Brian Kallies and Tom Desch, who produced, directed, wrote and edited it from their hearts.

But the documentary comes to the public because of public television, yet another big government project that matters absolutely.

Go big or go back to the bad old days.

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