Last weekend, Lori and I made the trek to Maupin, Oregon for the Native Fish Society annual River Stewards Gathering. As a newbie to the program, I was there to learn as much as possible from the group of stewards and presenters gathered from all over the west coast.
We arrived late on Friday night due to Portlandia traffic and missed the opening night dinner. I ran down to the after-party for a bit to say hello to a few of the folks I know in the organization.
The first person I ran into was my good friend, flip-flop wearing, business partner, mentor, brother – Derek Young. We caught up for a while and he introduced me to a traveling buddy from Washington (who shall remain nameless). Having made an appearance, I made my exit soon after. It was pretty obvious that extra-curricular activities that lead to hangovers were about to get going and I was there to learn a few things the next day.
The next morning Lori and I went down for breakfast then parted ways. She headed across the desert to do some shopping in The Dalles and I took my shiny new River Steward’s Handbook and sharpened #2 pencil and headed to class. I found a good seat with a unobstructed view of the projection screen in front of me, and the Dechutes River flowing by out the window over my shoulder.
As the room begins to fill with stewards, we made the usual introductions to each other with the basics – name, location, river – as we took our seats. All except one guy (who shall remain nameless). He stumbled through the tables and chairs and finds the seat directly beside me. He immediately laid his head on the table without saying a word. Obviously, he was the last man standing at the extra-curricular activities from the the previous night. I patted myself on the back for the decision I made the night before.
The presentations were all great. Well prepared and informative. The classmate beside me showed real courage and revived quickly, catching most of the first presentation. He improved greatly as the day went on. He even asked a handful of coherent questions of a couple of the presenters later in the morning!
We loaded up (yes, in that bus) and went on a field trip later in the afternoon. Stop #1 was Shearer Falls to view the fish ladder and tribal fishing platforms in the area. We saw salmon working their way through the falls and even watched a local angler catch a couple fish. There was debate within the group about whether or not one coho landed was legal or not and many in the group whipped out smart phones and frantically searched the ODFW regulation website for the answer. I never did find out for sure. I’m guessing the guy that landed the fish wishes he had chosen a different activity that Saturday afternoon. Nothing like a bus load of native fish advocates showing up and looking over your shoulder!
We next visited White River Falls and saw the remnants of an old diversion/generation system long since abandoned. It was quite rudimentary by today’s standards, but ingenious for it’s time in the early 1900’s. They took water from the system, sure, but did so at a natural impediment to upstream migration by anadromous fish. And they returned the water to the system a short ways downstream. They exploited the resource, but in a way that caused very little, if any, long term or irreparable harm.
The best part of the field trip (besides the awesome bus) was that it allowed us to mingle a little more freely and have conversations about various topics with select individuals within the group. I spent most of my time talking with people outside my usual circle of friends.
Overall, what struck me most was the mix of attendees. Young, fresh faced kids, eager to make a difference in the world. Old grey beards – the academia looking types. If you saw them on the street you’d peg them as college professors. I imagine some of them were 70’s era hippies speaking though bull horns about peace and love and polluted rivers. There were trout bums, fishing guides and one Fly Shop Owner/Outfitter (that shall remain nameless). It was a great mix of individuals with one common goal. To preserve native fish in a river they love. As a group, we hope to preserve native fish in rivers throughout the western US.
What I learned from the weekend is that I have a LOT to learn. It’s not enough to stand in the shadows and cry foul. I am a long way from knowing about the river I’ve called “home water” for the past 20 or so years. Living on it’s banks does not make me an expert. Fishing and guiding on it for the past 8 years does not make me an expert. Swimming and snorkeling in it, turning over it’s rocks, catching it’s fish and watching it flow by does not make me an expert.
There are rules, regulations, directives, plans, procedures, rights, controls, stipulations, opinions and ideas from a number of stakeholders. Public, private, district, municipal, county, state, federal and international organizations all have a say. Each and every water molecule that flows by my home has a control, claim and purpose attached to it. Many of them overlapping and/or in conflict with each other. It’s overwhelming.
To protect the fish I treasure, I must also protect the river they call home. To do so requires that I act. I cannot act until I’m informed an knowledgeable about the issues. I have a LOT of research to do. I don’t think I can be effective until I have some sort of grasp on the current (and historical) issues regarding the river. Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I’m encouraged by the fact that there is a strong network of individuals who have my back. They will be there when I have questions and when I need a shove in the right direction. My new friend (who shall remain nameless) and all the other river stewards are back on their water doing the same things – whatever they can do to protect their fish and their river.