As our loyal readers know, conservation is always a priority to us. We know that we are not going to be getting new oceans or rivers anytime soon. We believe that as humans, we should all feel at least a little obligated to protect these environmental resources that we have. We are lucky to work with some like minded people who dedicate their lives to ensure these pristine ecosystems and waterbodies are around for future generations. Scott Hed, the Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska, is one of these people. Scott comes from the Upper Midwest, but has worked on Alaska conservation since 2001 after switching from a 10-year career in the commercial finance industry. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but as Scott will tell you, the rewards have been immeasurable. Scott recently took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down with us and answer some questions about his work with the Sportsman’s Alliance and his thoughts on the Pebble campaign, get to know Scott a little better below!
1) How long have you been working with the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska (SAA)? What are some of your roles/responsibilities there? I guess SAA started up around 2006, so it’s hard to believe it’s been about a dozen years or so now. SAA has always been a one-man operation, so I’ve worn a lot of hats…all with the end goal of informing and engaging anglers and hunters from around the country (and even abroad) as well as the fishing and hunting product industries in efforts to ensure that productive fish and game habitats in Alaska are not jeopardized to types of development projects that have proven harmful in other places. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people and partner with many organizations and companies that care about the future of Alaska’s lands and waters, fish and game, recreation opportunities, and the sustainable outdoor economy.
2) How did you get involved with the organization? I’ve got a degree in economics and accounting, and spent my first decade post-college working in the commercial finance industry. When the company I was working for was sold twice in less than 12 months, I was offered the opportunity to remain working for them or take a generous severance package. I was 32 years old and had the rare chance to take a bit of time off work to figure out what I wanted to do with the next part of my life. I had been thinking of work somehow related to the outdoors, and had even received encouragement from an idol of mine – Flip Pallot – to take the risk of making a big change. He said I was young enough to fall on my sword several times and recover, and he was right. So, having had a fascination with Alaska for a long time, and having visited the state a couple of times on short trips, I booked a month and a half in Alaska in the summer of 2001. That trip led to an invitation to go to Washington, DC to speak on behalf of Alaska’s public lands, which then led to the chance to get my foot in the door with a job spreading the good word about Alaska conservation. Life is short, and we spend more of it working than we’d care to. So, I count myself lucky to have a job that pays the bills and is something I care deeply about.
3) When did you first visit Alaska? Do you remember feeling like protecting it would become such an important part of your life? My first trip to Alaska was in the late 1990s. I got an email from Northwest Airlines (yeah, I’m that old) about a super deal from Minneapolis to Anchorage for something like $250 round trip. But, I needed to leave in less than a week. I asked my boss if I could take a vacation on short notice, and before I knew it, I was looking at a moose on the street in suburban Anchorage on my way from the airport to where I stayed that first night. That super airfare only allowed me to spend 3 nights in Alaska, but I hit the Kenai Peninsula and also north toward Denali National Park in that short time. I was hooked. I went back later that same summer on another one of those amazing deals, this time dragging a cousin of mine along. We went to Denali for a few days. In the next few years, I returned more times with my dad and my brother on separate trips, including my first fishing in Alaska. My brother and I were lucky that our parents took us on awesome vacations around the United States, so I’ve seen a good share of wild places. But nothing really can prepare you for the scale of Alaska, whether it’s the rainforests of Southeast, the mountain ranges of the Interior, or the expansive rolling tundra. Alaska was all I imagined it would be, multiplied by 100. Once a person has been to Alaska, you recognize just how unique and special it is. So, I took a deeper interest in conservation issues there after visiting. I kept involved, but I don’t think I really knew what twists and turns my career path would take that eventually led to my current work.
4) If you have one week to visit Alaska, what time of year are you going and what are you fishing for? I’ll freely admit that I am not a terribly skilled fly angler. There are guides out there who can readily attest to that fact. For people like me, Alaska is an amazing place. Lots of fish in a variety of species both freshwater and saltwater. The fish aren’t terribly educated, as there’s typically not a lot of pressure if you can get off the road system. And among those multitude of fish, you can usually find some good-sized ones. I appreciate places like Silver Creek in Idaho, where I saw incredible numbers of rising trout swimming all around me…but do you think I was smart or skilled enough to even hook one of them? Alaska has the fish, and they’re attainable. I’ve had the good fortune to fish many places and catch lots of fish, including some nice ones. So, with that as the backdrop, I would choose to fish in early autumn when you can get some nice rainbows and Dolly Varden, while hitting the Coho (silver) salmon runs. And depending on where you are, there should be decent bear viewing along the rivers as they’re fattening up on salmon that time of year. Sockeye are my favorite to eat, and Chinook (kings) are a slugfest, but Coho are the most fun salmon to catch in my opinion. However, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from visiting Alaska anytime spring through fall. You’ll find fish. I hear so many people say “Someday, I’m going to visit Alaska.” My automatic response is “Make sure ‘someday’ happens.”
5) Besides Pebble, are there any other major threats to Alaska’s ecosystems that we should be aware of? Another big issue to pay attention to is management of America’s largest National Forest – the 17-million acre Tongass in Southeast Alaska. The State of Alaska is seeking to assume management of roadless areas, and the Tongass supports amazing numbers of salmon, and also a strong recreational fishery for salmon as well as trout, Dolly Varden, and steelhead.
6) How can interested folks get involved and help protect the fisheries of Alaska? Make sure to stay engaged in the public processes that determine the fate of these resources. This year will offer comment periods on both the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay and management of the Tongass National Forest. You’ve likely done it a time or six before, but we have to keep telling our public officials that these places must be protected. Weigh in during official comment periods, and also tell your members of Congress about these issues. Contact email@example.com to discuss making a tax-deductible donation. Purchase products offered by some of our fantastic brand partners like Fishpond, Rep Your Water, and Sight Line Provisions.
7) Do you have any upcoming fishing trips planned? I’m not strictly a fly angler, and will readily fish with conventional tackle if it means catching fish. Since we now live in Nicaragua, we’ve been doing quite a bit of fishing in Central America and also Mexico. I’ve caught bonefish, barracuda, trevally, mahi mahi, tuna, striped marlin, sailfish, tarpon, and more. But one fish down here has eluded me to date – I’m still chasing my first roosterfish. Headed to Costa Rica in a few weeks for my next attempt. I suppose if I had a dream fishing trip it would be someplace like Christmas Island or the Seychelles – I’m a sucker for tropical islands that offer a multitude of species.
Tomorrow, we will have another discussion with Scott where he asses the current status of the Pebble Campaign and his confidence in if Bristol Bay will receive the protection in deserves.
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