Regression to the Mean

by Council Chair Scott Allen


Often, I feel we, Trout Unlimited, are spread a little thin. Or maybe it’s that we point the bow towards the horizon with a destination in mind but without adequate provisions, we give it our best nonetheless. We work very hard for our deserving veterans, boys and girls; welcoming women and minorities; assisting those in recovery from cancer. Let’s not dismiss habitat and stream access accomplishments of which we are good at, very good.


And then we point the bow in the direction of the dark waters on the sea of legislation. We are a small organization plying the legislative waters in a skinny skiff. The Trout Unlimited contribution to the 2023-2025 executive budget was a requested $5 increase of the inland trout stamp, not a burdensome request considering there hasn’t been an increase since 2005. It’s a user fee after all, not a politically hazardous tax. Our lobbying efforts were well received by legislators, calm seas ahead. But placid waters are no measure of unseen peril lurking beneath the surface. The inland trout stamp fee increase was rejected by the Joint Committee on Finance without comment and eliminated from the budget. DOA.


That requested $5 increase to an existing $10 fee was statistically an outlier. Occasionally we find an outlier in our landing net, an 18-inch brook trout or a tiger trout of any size. But then we experience what statisticians will tell you is regression to the mean: you may be euphoric with that 18-inch brook trout, but the size of successive attempts to repeat it will gradually pull you back to your average, the mean. And something else can happen: your successive attempts at repeating that 18-inch statistical outlier may have the effect of shifting the mean towards the outlier, albeit at a glacial crawl. In other words, you’re getting better at what you do as you strive to repeat that memorable moment.


Trout fishing in Wisconsin is the best it has been since presettlement, and that statistical trend will continue. One hundred years ago a pristine brook trout stream in Wisconsin was more an outlier than the norm. The mean continues to slowly move towards the outlier. The inland trout stamp fee increase will again be requested in the next budget. We will make some changes to our lobbying, bring our message of habitat improvement to other conservation groups unaware of the positive effects the trout stamp has on multitude of wildlife habitats. We will get better at it. Anything can happen in the short run, this is one of the reasons it’s dangerous to conjecture from a small sample size, in this case one line in an executive budget.


The year 2013 saw the membership of Wisconsin TU standing steady at about 4,500 members, membership has steadily grown since then to our current 6,600. I’m not certain what the outlier for our membership goal is, other than continued growth, but for certain the bell curve is moving towards the outlier. Why is that? I think I have the answer. All of the outreach programs that our volunteers devote so much selfless time to are paying a handsome return to our membership numbers. It takes time, a long time, to shift the mean and in Wisconsin it is moving towards the outlier. That’s a very good thing.


It's summer, keep your feet wet and work on shifting your mean. I mean it, the opportunities are here in Wisconsin, stay the course.