We burned a few gallons of gas and left some rubber on the road to go see The Breach last night in Portland. An awesome film! A fellow movie goer remarked during the Q&A session afterwards – ” I’m overwhelmed, how do I, as an individual, do anything to help?”
Lori and I had a great discussion on the way home about how we can justify taking a stand on the issues when we as a family are a major contributor to so many of the problems. We added to the population explosion by having 8 kids between us. We live in a home made of 95% wood, we heat our home with firewood and electricity. A home which is protected from flood by two dams just upstream. We have a septic tank and drain field within 50 feet of the river and we aren’t all that careful about the chemicals we use within our home. Part of our household income is derived from my fishing guide service. The bulk of my working career has been in the telecommunications industry – a huge consumer of copper. Yup, we’re consumers of the “4 Hs” that are slowly driving nails into the coffin for wild fish species – Hydro, Habitat, Harvest and Hatchery.
We’ve taken baby steps over the years to try and do better. We recycle more, Lori has her “worm farm” to compost table scraps, we have a small flock of chickens. The worm and chicken “output” have replaced commercial fertilizer in our garden beds. I use a vinegar/oil soap mixture on the fruit trees as a replacement for pesticide. We’ve replaced windows and purchased energy efficient appliances over the past few years. I contribute to Trout Unlimited, the Native Fish Society, Wild Steelheaders United, and other conservation groups. I practice Catch and Release of all wild fish, in both my personal fishing and with my guide clients.
But is that enough to stand up and point fingers at everyone else?
Over the past few months, I’ve filled this blog with articles with my views on removing dams, tightening forest practices laws, hatchery management practices, policies, budgets, etc. I’ve taken my message “on the road” to various fishing clubs and plan to continue doing so.
I made a comment to Lori about one portion of the film where the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership was being interviewed about the project and asked is his company could successfully prevent any potential environmental disaster. My comment to Lori was about the extreme arrogance of the man to say that they could handle it – they could extract the copper and protect the fishery at the same time. As the film points out, if the waste from this project escapes – a sulfuric acid lake and millions of tons of heavy metal and other toxins – the fishery is doomed. This huge lake and it’s contents must be contained perpetually. That’s FOREVER folks – cand
Lori asked me if I thought he was lying. I don’t think he was outright lying. I believe he has the arrogance to think that he and his people are smart enough to really take care of it. Forever is a very long time. I don’t think anyone can guarantee something perpetually. It’s not worth the risks. If something goes wrong, it’s done. As one commentator in the film puts it – “if we get Alaska wrong, it’s a clean sweep”. We will have destroyed every wild salmon species on the planet. We aren’t smart enough. The tailing pond dam collapse at Mt. Polley last year showed us that. And that dam was built by the same folks that hope to contain the waste from the Pebble mine, and it’s much bigger!
We like to think we’re smart enough, but we’re not. We thought we could replace the wild fish populations lost to dam construction by building hatcheries in the 1940’s – 1950’s. We were somewhat successful in creating some fish, but at a huge cost and at the expense of what wild fish were left. In my opinion, they are not an acceptable substitute. The European fish farmers think they are smart enough. They are farming Atlantic Salmon along the British Columbia coast in open net pens. They are successful in raising fish, but to the detriment of Pacific Coast species who have to swim through the waste fields under those pens on their way out to the salt and on their way back into the freshwater to spawn.
I wish I was smart enough to fix it, but I’m not. I have a lot of questions and very few, if any, answers. My only thought is that we need to put Mother Nature back in charge. We keep working to put things back, the best we can, to the way things were meant to be. And at the same time, we stop making it worse. Ten plus years (and continuing) work on Johnson Creek in downtown Portland resulted in fish returns. Not a lot – four fish I think. But they did come back. Removal of the Elwha dams – fish are coming back and Mother Nature is putting things back in order. There are numerous examples across the country that prove this. Not on a grand scale, but successful none the less.
As the film and it’s supporters point out – Alaska learned from the mistakes made by Europe and the Lower 48 East and West Coasts. Alaska instituted some strict (and initially unpopular) regulations on fishing that have helped create a sustainable harvest of a free resource. If managed properly and protected, a resource that is perpetual, enduring, continuing, and everlasting. If we take care of the fish, they’ll take care of us. It’s what the tribes up and down the west coast have been telling us for decades.
It’s pretty simple and basic really. It’s a nearly perfect system. The fish come in, create the next generation and die. Their carcasses feed the entire system – the plants, the trees, the animals, the birds, and the bugs. We can even take a portion of the fish, generate food, put money into the economy and everyone wins – if we keep it all in balance. When we try to take more than our share, or we manipulate the system in some way for other gains, it will all crash down upon us.
So, what can we do as individuals to help? We can do a better job in our own back yards. Use fewer toxic chemicals, be more energy efficient, take care of our waters – ponds, creeks, streams, rivers, oceans. I, for one, have some work to do there. The Breach folks suggest we speak with our dollars and our forks. Don’t buy farmed salmon – kill that via supply and demand. If we don’t buy it, it won’t exist. Ask wait staff and chefs at restaurants where the salmon comes from. If it’s not wild salmon, processed in the US, don’t order it. Do the same in the seafood section at the grocery store. Support the folks that are doing the right thing – Bristol Bay fishermen and fisherwomen.
Write to your elected officials and let them know what you think. Tell them to stop taking payoffs/contributions from Corporations intent on bypassing the rules and regulations. Send a few dollars to the organizations that are fighting this battle every day.
As a child of the sixties, I saw and heard a lot of things I didn’t understand. It was a just a lot of noise, anger and confusion for a kid. But now I see that all that noise and anger did some really good things. A war was ended, the EPA was created and Tom McCall saved a river and so much more. It seems that maybe we’ve been resting on that success for a bit too long. It might be a good time to get noisy and angry again. Let’s get a bit radical. Let’s make stream side buffers wider. Let’s take out dams that are inefficient or serve little purpose. Let’s do away with fish farms and hatcheries – put Mother Nature back in charge of fish. And last but not least – Let’s not take the risk of destroying the last of the salmon for some short term cash.