The Middle Rogue Steelhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited has severed its ties to the parent organization after 17 years in an effort to keep more of the fruits of its fundraising labors for on-the-ground conservation projects here.
Chapter members in a July 19 meeting in Grants Pass voted 59-0 to go independent, saying the move is strictly about finances and not because of any philosophical differences with the national organization that strives to conserve and improve habitat for cold-water fish species such as native trout and salmon.
Reduced return of TU dues to the chapter and downturns in its local fundraising have left the chapter in danger of closing within three years unless the chapter goes independent, according to board member Maynard Flohaug.
Using dues to run the newly independent chapter will allow for 100 percent of money collected to go toward conservation and restoration projects — the kind of work for which the chapter is known.
"We're raising less each year, and they're taking more money," Flohaug says. "We're getting squeezed. We have to do what's best for the club."
Many of the local chapter members will retain their membership with Trout Unlimited, which has about 3,000 members in Oregon sprinkled among five chapters.
"I hate to see them leave, but I understand their reasons," says Tom Wolf, chair of TU's Oregon Council. "It's sad. They're a good group of people, and I want to continue to see them do what they're doing."
The local chapter has about 450 members, with about 150 active, and they pay about $11,000 in annual dues to the national organization, Flohaug says. But the chapter received only $300 from the parent organization last year, despite having about $6,200 in expenses, leaving scant funds for conservation projects that benefit Rogue River Basin salmon and their habitat, board members said.
Compounding the problem was a consistent drop in profits from its auction and fall chinook fishing derby on the middle Rogue River, which this year will run Sept. 9-10.
The net result was that the chapter had less than $2,500 for conservation and restoration projects, far less than the $15,000 for projects in past years, Flohaug says.
"We're going to be on our own," Flohaug says. "We're not looking to be associated with anybody."
Wolf says that "unfortunately, chapters don't get a lot back" from their members' $35 annual dues.
Wolf says he was notified a month ago about last week's planned vote. The chapter's move is considered isolated among Western chapters in the parent group, which sports about 150,000 members in more than 400 chapters nationwide.
The Grants Pass-based chapter was one of the busiest in Oregon. Its members won the 2006 National Rise to the Future Award from the U.S. Forest Service for its conservation and education efforts on national forest lands within the Rogue Basin.
The club also hosts Free Fishing Day events each June at Lake Selmac, the only Free Fishing Day event in Josephine County.
The chapter originally was a member of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, but split with that group 17 years ago over philosophical differences before finding a home with TU.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.