In March 24 IssueBy Kim GrahamTimes Journal Reporter
Economic woes of the country threaten to close the doors of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH) in Jamestown.
In President Obama's FY2012 proposed budget, he calls for $6.3 million in funding cuts that would end operation of nine national fish hatcheries including Wolf Creek.
"Once it's in the President's budget, the only one who can do anything to change it is congress," said Wolf Creek NFH Project Leader James Gray.
Armed with the knowledge of the hatchery's contributions locally and statewide, Friends of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery are busy rallying support for the threatened hatchery.
"I'm a volunteer and I love fishing," said WCNFH Friends Group President, Jerry Coleman. "The fish hatchery, the river, and the fishing stream bring lots of money to this little community. We think it's a major asset."
Last week, the friends group sent out an email notifying people across the state of the possible closure.
In the message, they urge supporters to sign an online petition and send letters to local, state, and federal representatives to stop the closure of national fish hatcheries.
"People who enjoy the hatchery are upset and supportive of us," Gray said. "Public support is great."
So far, the petition has 1,658 signatures and many have joined the Friends of WCNFH in their quest to save the hatchery by writing letters to government officials.
"We've had a lot of people writing letters," Coleman said. "The friends group dug up a lot of statistics not just for our county but also for the state because this affects the entire state."
Kentucky's entire trout fishing program depends on the 1 million trout raised annually at Wolf Creek NFH.
The hatchery greatly contributes to local, regional, and state economies particularly counties in Kentucky whose solvency relies heavily on trout fishing destinations.
"We stock trout in 115 different waters in 75 of 120 counties in Kentucky," said Gray. "A lot of those counties are poor rural counties that rely on trout fishing as a tourist attraction."
He said many areas in the state have very little contributing their economy other than tourism and trout fishing is one of the only tourism draws they have.
Economic benefits of Wolf Creek NFH are far reaching but begin at home with the hatchery's operation.
"We're one of the few (government agencies) that can show we actually generate a positive economic impact," Gray said.
He said the fish WCNFH stocks generate more in federal income taxes than the hatchery is budgeted to spend annually.
"The economic impact is significant," said Gray. "The hatchery contributes $34 million in direct economic benefit in Kentucky alone."
An economic study by Caudill and Charbonneau in 2010, identified $33.7 million in annual economic benefits from trout production at Wolf Creek NFH each year.
With an annual budget of $907,000, that's a return of more than $53.00 for every tax dollar spent to operate the hatchery.
As a result of fish production at Wolf Creek NFH, many jobs are created in rural areas where unemployment is much higher than the national average of 8.9 percent.
According to the study, fish production at Wolf Creek NFH provides employment for more than 370 people with almost $10 million in wage and salary income.
Here in Russell County where the unemployment rate is 11.2 percent, local officials are concerned about job loss due to the hatchery's possible closure.
"Any job lost now, we don't want to see that," said Jamestown Mayor Terry Lawless. "We don't want to see anything closed where we lose jobs."
After receiving the email from Friends of WCNFH, Lawless said he sent letters to Kentucky U.S. senators and our district U.S. congressman in support of the hatchery.
"It's a very important part of our community," said Mayor Lawless. "I hope they reconsider the budget and don't close our hatchery."
Many other officials have also responded by sending letters to government agencies and federal government representatives.
"We've had a huge amount of support from here in the county," said Gray.
Russell Springs Mayor Hollis DeHart joined the ranks of hatchery supporters and shares concerns for the local economy and possible job loss.
"It would be a tremendous negative economic impact if the hatchery were to close," said Mayor DeHart. "I hope they'll take another look at the budget."
"When you start talking about tourism, you're talking about a lot of money and jobs," DeHart said.
John Carter, Russell County Tourist Commission marketing director, recognizes the hatchery as a local tourism destination.
"Other than Lake Cumberland, the hatchery is probably the biggest tourism draw in the area," said Carter. "There's untold 1,000's of people that visit plus the educational value for local citizens."
Each year, Wolf Creek NFH hosts more than 100,000 visitors who tour exhibits, walk the raceways feeding trout, and angle to catch trout at Hatchery Creek.
"We're proud to be the first U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery to have a Visitor/Environmental Education Center, a facility like none other," said WCNFH Environmental Education/Outreach Specialist Amanda Patrick. "Coupled with our well established fish production program, we have a facility that is an amazing resource for those who come to visit."
Others agree that the value of Wolf Creek NFH extends beyond trout production to include education of future generations.
"I think because of the education aspect that the hatchery gives children, it's more than just a fish hatchery," Coleman said. "We send thousands of kids each year through that hatchery to teach them about nature."
Educational pursuits at the hatchery include everyone from local individuals to entire grade levels in public schools.
"We host over a hundred field trips, workshops, family events, and more each year, at little to no cost for those in attendance," Patrick said. "Even with the limited staff and resources we have, we consistently seek to go above and beyond to be a go to resource for our community."
Kids Catch a Rainbow Fishing Derby is the largest event held at the hatchery with 1,525 children age 1 - 15 attending last year.
"We've had as many as 1,650 kids at the fishing derby teaching them about nature," said Coleman.
Whether attending a scheduled event or simply a day out with family, the hatchery is available free of charge 364 days a year.
"Wolf Creek NFH is a place close to home, where parents can take their children to spend the day in a clean, educational, family friendly environment," Union Chapel Elementary Science Teacher Audra Roberts said. "It gives parents a chance to get their children out of the house, connected to nature and involved in learning about the environment in which they live"
Roberts stresses the usefulness of environmental education programs at the hatchery.
"As an educator, I can't express what an important educational resource the hatchery is," said Roberts. "With a curriculum that is based on Kentucky's educational standards, the programs at the hatchery really engage the students in the learning process."
She said students come away from the hatchery having experienced hands-on activities that allow them to make real-life connections.
"These activities positively affect their level of understanding and give kids a fun and exciting way to learn outside of the normal classroom," Roberts said.
Russell County Middle School Science Teacher Jean Clement echoes those views.
"The fish hatchery is an invaluable resource to teach our kids about environmental education," said Clement. "All grade levels from elementary to high school go there to study the streams and learn real life applications to use in their environment."
Clement said children from other school districts in Kentucky visit the hatchery and use it as an educational resource.
Biologist In Training (BIT), a program developed at the hatchery is used fish hatcheries across the country she said.
"Events at the hatchery bring in people to encourage environmental stewardship," said Clement.
Local leaders are concerned about the future of a valuable community resource.
"James Gray, Amanda Patrick and all the folks down there are very community oriented," said Carter. "Without the hatchery, we'd lose all that support for the community as well as a great educational resource and tourist attraction."
"The hatchery is invaluable to this area," Carter said. "I don't know what we'd do if it closes."
Still the President's proposed FY2012 budget could mean an end to Wolf Creek NFH.
"The threat is real - it's in the President's budget," Gray said. "If the budget doesn't get changed, the closure is going to go through."
Russell County Judge Executive Gary Robertson encourages others to follow local officials lead in proactive backing of the hatchery.
"We wrote letters to be as supportive as possible," Russell County Judge Executive Gary Robertson said. "I hope enough people write letters so that our government takes a long look at this before they do anything."
For additional information regarding hatchery funding cuts or supporting the hatchery visit: www.friendsofwolfcreeknfh.com or contact Johanna Spencer at 270-343-2874 or email: email@example.com.