October is a wonderful month for a sportswoman. Hunting and fishing are at peak. The air is cooler, the dogs lift their heads, capturing scents, fish are eating in anticipation of winter.
Our favorite smaller river closes to fishing today, end of the month. We went out, for a last time this season, on Saturday. Casting to the foam, pondering whether to change from a soft hackle to a dry or nymph. There is a bittersweetness about the last time. An appreciation of all that the river gave to us this season. Some absolutely gorgeous fish, exciting falls while wading, cooling water during a hot day, moments where we realized no one in the world knew where we were. And the sadness that we will have to wait until the last weekend in May (in reality, much later due to run off) to return with a fly rod in hand.
The reality is we will return throughout the rest of fall and winter. Snowshoeing, back country skiing, walks with the dogs. And while we will not have a fly rod in hand, we will appreciate the fish, the beauty of the river, the sense that no one in the world knows where we are.
That is what being outside is, that sense of being awestruck at what nature gives you, realizing there is a high chance you'll fall into the river, your dogs will find some decomposing something that looks pretty gross, that the Monet painting you saw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art has nothing on the yellows, reds, greens, or stark branches of the trees in October.
This river is but one of thousands in the West. It's a small area, much of it on federal lands. People drive along the river to look at it's beauty every day. There are no oil rigs, not a lot of logging anymore, and few scattered small miners stubbornly asserting claims to minerals that don't exist anymore. It could get worse. Much worse. But I will continue to work on ensuring that the leaf peepers, the hunters, anglers, hikers, white water kayakers can find their place where no one knows where they are.
It's the end of the month. Tomorrow I will take the dogs out to walk along the river.
The dirty little secret known to everyone is that stormwater run off is horrifically bad for freshwater fish. And a recent study demonstrates the issues.
But help can be on the way. This is one of those things that simple solutions, or what we call "low hanging fruit" can help enormously. Rather than having stormwater dumped into rivers, streams, and even Puget Sound, infiltrating the stormwater run off through soils is an effective way of neutralizing the toxics in the water and helping salmon.
Washington state Department of Ecology has taken a leadership role in ensuring the new development in Washington manages stormwater more effectively while protecting freshwater and anadromous species.
While Western Washington soils are almost all bad for infiltration rates (much of the Puget Sound area is on top of glacial till) there are ways to build rain gardens, berms, and swales that can still infiltrate without creating muddy messes.
Shelterwood Consulting has extensive experience in this area. We have worked with municipalities to correct their mistakes in building rain gardens and we have worked with developers in creating effective stormwater management plans.
It's important. Our salmon are depending on us to pick the low hanging fruit and help them.
We consider ourselves avid outdoors people. We fly fish and we hunt for upland game. In during so, we spend time getting to know vegetation, riparian areas, wildlife, and ourselves.
Hunters and fishing folk can and generally are exceptionally responsible for nature. But then there are the exceptions and often they are egregious. These men committed horrific crimes. Including the poaching, the unnecessary and horrible waste in hunting is almost unspeakable.
We are proud of the hunters and anglers we know and spend time with. Aldo Leopold's vision of sustainable and ethical hunting, catch and keep them wet release advocacy by Trout Unlimited, advocating for sustainable habitat management by upland game hunting groups, that is what being an outdoors person should be about.
The University of Iowa, in a fit of being prescient, created the Aldo Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Thinking long term, this Center brought together conservationists and farmers, thinking about soil conservation, how to use crops as wildlife habitat. Great things came from this Center, including making cover crops "in" again. And now, Iowa Republican state legislators want to de-fund this Center.
Aldo Leopold is a great hero of ours. His foresight on American wildlife and habitat was measured and reasonable. He was not some "wild eyed" environmentalist, but rather a conservationist. He loved hunting, he poured his amazing energy into restoring his own "shack" and land to use it as a model of sustainability in agriculture and wildlife habitat.
In this day of rolling back every single law and regulation concerning conservation, reducing the size of our National Monuments, and encouraging mineral extraction and timber cutting on our public lands, we need to counter this back to the turn of the 19th century movement with current and forward thinking ideas and science.
Just say no Iowa. Keep this vital institution.
Congressional Republicans recently introduced a bill which would severely restrict environmental reviews of projects on our nation's rivers. For years and years, mostly Republican legislators, have been scapegoating requirements for discharge permits in water, environmental impact statements, and requirements for wetland or wildlife delineations. They assert that these "tapping on the brakes" cost developers way too much money and time (which is money).
Since we perform some of these reviews, it is somewhat of a conflict for us to comment, except to say most consultants work diligently for their client's interests and seek to find ways to make a project work without destroying the site or river or wildlife. Tapping on the brakes is a good thing, it helps everyone take a breath and think about the cumulative impacts as well as long term consequences of either doing the project or not.
It's simply wrong to scapegoat these vital laws and seek to weaken them by claiming they cost jobs. But ideology has taken root with many of our policy makers and promises have been made to some industries to give them the store.
Can we get an impact statement on that?
As those of use concerned about salmon recovery watch the dismal numbers of salmon return to the Columbia River and its tributaries, irrigators have asked the Trump Administration to convene what is called the "God Squad." It is a provision in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that allows the President to convene a committee of cabinet members to then "play God" in making choices about literally the life or extinction of a particular species. Essentially, the God Squad is convened to roll back and rescind protections for a species that has been listed threatened or endangered under the ESA.
As it is in the Pacific Northwest, we have significant stresses and strains on salmon and steelhead. They once were so plentiful that Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that they believed they could walk across the abundant salmon as if they were protruding rocks in the Columbia. Now, we consider it a success when more than one Sockeye returns to Red Lake in Idaho.
The picture above is of a suction dredge, left abandoned in a critical steelhead spawning tributary of the Wenatchee River. This is a violation of the minuscule rules for hobby mining in Washington. Over the course of the "mining season" we find violation after violation of the rules. Our wildlife agency, strapped for money, not only doesn't have the will to enforce the regulations but barely the manpower. And this dredge, along with dozens of others, cause enormous cumulative impacts on these critical steams and rivers.
Yet, the hobby miners insist that even the minuscule regulations, like the minuscule regulations on irrigators in Kennewick, Washington, are too much and impact their ability to do what they want.
Someday, very soon, we will be wistfully telling our children about salmon and steelhead. Or we can be telling them about how we all worked together, each making sacrifices, to help these iconic fish return. Now, which way would God want it?
There is a saying in the West, that "whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting."
Two events in the news today bring that saying home. First, in Washington state. Almost a year ago the Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion now known as the HIrst Decision. Prior to this court case, if a landowner wanted to drill a well they were not required to get a permit. Rather, wells for domestic use were considered "exempt" from the permit requirement. However, as we become more knowledgeable about hydrology, we are confident that there is a link between groundwater withdrawal and flows in surface streams. In other words, the more water you take out of the ground, the less water goes into streams. Hydrologic continuity.
In Whatcom County an environmental organization brought litigation against the county for allowing building permits with exempt wells as the water source. Most rivers and streams in Washington state are over allocated, meaning that rights to the water in the streams are more than what "normal" in-stream flows should allow. So the Washington State Supreme Court decided that for a county to issue a building permit that depends on an exempt well for domestic use, the county must show that that well will not cause any significant reduction in the watershed's in-stream flow. This is a rather significant undertaking.
Of course, the building industry went on a legislative lobbying spree, seeking to not only find a legislative fix for the Hirst Decision but also to roll back the state's growth management regulations which also limit development in rural and forested areas.
This is a highly complex issue with many stakeholders involved, including tribes, anglers, hydrologists, developers, land owners. It will take more than a "regulatory roll back" in order to protect Washington's vital waters that have been under enormous pressure over the past decades. But the Republicans have been trying, holding up budget negotiations in order to ram through their idea of regulatory relief.
Rather, what needs to happen is our policy makers take some time to understand the complexity of hydrology, bring all stakeholders to the table, and find ways to ensure that constant ground water withdrawals are not impacting the last of our iconic salmon and steelhead rivers.
And in California, Republican members of Congress want to dam, channel, and divert the San Joaquin River, claiming that farmers matter more than fish. The callousness of that statement is breathtaking. No one denies that farmers are vital to us, but this should not be an either/or proposition.
It takes water to make whiskey. But it sure looks like we are in for more fights than can be cured by having a drink with each other.
The Clean Water Act is a cornerstone of protecting our waters in this country. It was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, a Republican. Fires on the Cuyahoga River (burning on pollution) and unsafe drinking water spurred Congress into action, but it took President Nixon's support to get this legislation passed.
From then on, America has made miraculous progress in cleaning up and protecting our vital rivers, streams, and wetlands. These are the watersheds for not only farms and cities, but also provide critical habitat for wildlife.
As the Obama Administration grappled with the drinking water debacle in Flint, Michigan, the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new rules implementing the Clean Water Act. In many ways, the new rules enhanced water quality protections. As our society becomes more complex, ensuring clean water is essential.
However, like everything else, there was a huge push back from developers and corporate agriculture. Now, the Trump Administration wants to repeal those rules and allow more discretion as to what ends up in our water.
Sometimes discretion is not a good thing.
Today, the Brookings Institute issued a paper on the abuses of conservation easements in the United States.
Conservation easements are a valuable tool for both landowners and regional landscapes, often preventing overdevelopment while granting the landowner valuable tax credits for not developing their land.
But, like any good thing, folks find a way to abuse it.
Working with land trusts, The Nature Conservancy, and other established non-governmental organizations can prevent and ensure that the landowner will not, sometime down the road, be subject to scrutiny over their attempts to protect landscapes.
We recently finished reading "Janesville" which we highly recommend. It's a thorough and interesting narrative about a town in Wisconsin (where Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is from) where GM closed it's factory and the impacts on several GM and other plant workers. One of the most searing observations is how many of the assembly workers from GM did not know how to use even the most rudimentary applications on a personal computer. For instance, few knew how to turn one on, much less type a paper from a computer, which seriously inhibited their ability to be "re-trained" at the local community college.
As our current President unwinds environmental regulations, particularly in the energy sector, we have a suggestion. Perhaps the quid pro quo for loosening regulations for many dying industries is that they have to provide mandatory computer training for all of their employees. So that when they are finally laid off, they at least have some technological capacity. That way, as we find jobs in restoring the polluted streams, restoring the mountain tops, remediating the open pit mines, all which will require the workers to have technological skills, they will be some what prepared.
It's the least we can ask for if the energy sector wants to willy-nilly dig into the earth without any oversight. Get your workers prepared for change.