Mad Max picks up award
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:53 PM
"Oak Harbor's Max McYoung says he wasn't after fame when he took a stand to rescue and protect the Skagit River back in the late 1980s. But that hasn't stopped organizations from the Washington State Legislature to national environmental groups from recognizing his efforts.Last week McYoung received yet another award, this time from the Izaak Walton League of America. The 50,000-member national organization named McYoung to its 1999 honor roll for his work in the fields of conservation, public information and publicity. Only 10 such honors are given each year.I think I'm the only non-member ever to get the award, McYoung said this week. During the past decade McYoung has been featured on local and national TV and in 1992 won the prestigious Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service.A retired Navy man, McYoung first visited the Skagit River for hunting and fishing in the 1960s. But by the 1980s things had changed dramatically.I flat loved fishing, he said. But then one year I couldn't get any fish. The river had become clouded with silt and mud from upriver logging operations and it was taking a major toll on salmon and steelhead. As a direct result, fish-eating wildlife such as eagles were also disappearing.I got mad, McYoung said. He got doubly mad when he found out that the Skagit had been designated as a scenic river by the federal government and was supposed to be protected under the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.It turned out, he said, that the National Forest Service had not been using millions of dollars of federally-allocated money to clean up and restore the river.Without waiting for help, McYoung launched a personal campaign to put the river right.I spent tens of thousands of dollars of my own money fighting those damn people up there, he said of his campaign. Whenever he talks on the subject, McYoung's speech is inundated with expletives. I took the Secretary of the Interior there, hell, I had everybody up there.A lot of his money was spent on long distance phone calls, trips to the site and food for boat trips with the powers-that-be within the state and at the national level. His goal was to make enough people aware of the problem to actually do something about it.McYoung also rallied the media to his cause.Sometimes the government (officials) wouldn't talk to me, but then the newspapers and TV stations started to call them, he said. They sure talked to me after that.McYoung waged his battle through several years and numerous heart attacks. Finally, near death in early 1998, he received a heart transplant in Seattle. That slowed him down, he said.During that same time, though, millions of dollars, new management procedures and new logging restrictions have made their way to the Skagit River. And more are likely on the way now that certain types of salmon have been placed on the federal endangered species list.The Izaak Walton League of America award McYoung recently received is named after a 17th-century English fisherman, conservationist and author of the book The Compleat Angler. The organization has supported clean water legislation, protection of species and conservation and preservation of public lands since it was founded in 1922. McYoung said he probably won't live to see the river restored to its former glory, but he likes what he's seen so far.It's getting to be in pretty good shape, he said. It's well on its way. "