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December 19, 2014
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A small gesture


It can be surprising how the smallest gesture can have a lasting impact.

In the summer of 2001, Jock Conygnham, an employee of Trout Unlimited (TU), was overseeing TU’s efforts to improve the trout fishery in the Beaverkill. Jock was contacted by a reporter from the Idaho Falls Register regarding work proposed by TU on the South Fork of the Snake River. The reporter was seeking possible criticism of TU’s efforts in the area of the Beaverkill. Jock put the reporter in touch with Ed Van Put and Jack Isaacs of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), knowing these men harbored doubts regarding TU’s work. Both of them had strong reputations for preventing harm to the local trout streams. Their views were often attacked due to their concerns over protecting trout habitat. Occasionally, criticism came from rather surprising quarters.

When Van Put and Isaacs spoke to the reporter, they were careful to point out that they were expressing their own private views, not those of the DEC.

Mr. Charles Gauvin, the president of TU, was angered by the comments given to the reporter by Van Put and Isaacs. He wrote a lengthy letter to the Commissioner of the DEC, Ms. Erin Crotty. In it, he stated that Van Put and Isaacs had “taken an opportunity to assail TU and the work done on the Beaverkill.”

He referred to Van Put and Isaacs “wishing to preserve their own personal fiefdoms rather than working with TU.” Mr. Gauvin finished by requesting that such statements, “of remarkable pettiness” should “be curtailed less it undermine the relationship of TU with the DEC.” That is a rather ominous phrase. Just how was he asking for these men to be “curtailed”?

It would be only a small gesture, but I felt it was important for me to write Ms. Crotty in an attempt to defend these gentlemen, whom I considered to be wrongly attacked. I also saw fit to copy Mr. Gauvin. He angrily replied to my letter, calling the opinions of Van Put and Isaacs to be “an unprovoked and vicious attack on TU.” Apparently, Mr. Gauvin might have profited by taking an anger management course.

This unseemly squabbling ended with a letter from Mr. Gerald A. Barnhart, head of the Fish & Wildlife Division of DEC, addressed to both Mr. Gauvin and myself. Mr. Barnhart praised Van Put and Isaacs as “dedicated employees, committed to the protection and restoration of the fisheries in New York. Any comments made by them should be put behind us.” My letter contained a personal note from Mr. Barnhart signed, “Best Regards, Gerry.”

Saturday evening, October 8, Barb and I attended the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers’ (TGF) conservation dinner in Roscoe. That night, Isaacs was given an award from TGF for his long years of service protecting our trout streams for future generations.

After receiving the award, Jack made a brief statement. He ended it by telling those in the room a little story. Each day when he went to work, he carried in his briefcase copies of two letters. One was the letter that had been written to Commissioner Crotty by Mr. Gauvin. Thus, he reminded himself that his actions during the day might bring him angry recriminations. The second letter, which had been written by someone in the audience that evening, encouraged him to do his job knowing there were many out there who would appreciate and admire his efforts. Such a small gesture, long forgotten, yet it went to work with Jack Isaacs every day.

Oh, one more thing, gentle reader. That Mr. Barnhart comes from the family who gave the name to one of the most famous pools on the Beaverkill River.