“In a meeting Saturday, Bundy urged Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to seize the federal officials’ weapons and bring them back to the rancher.” Seattle Times April 12, 2014
Many people in American and the world watched in horror this past week as the events unfolded in Nevada. We learned graphically through this incidence how legal illogic applied strategically and misleadingly by politically driven media machines including some connected with the Koch Brothers can twist people’s minds into thinking that the thievery and belligerence perpetrated by Bunkerville’s own personal Archie—Cliven Bundy—is heroism and patriotism (Mr. Bundy in white at right above escorted by his armed body guards).
In truth, the cowardly cowboy of Clark County is nothing more than an outlaw and bully. He is using emotional connivance and media chicanery as well as the soft-headedness and chip-laden shoulders of the country’s militia movement (see above video and reference to "his land") to continue to break the laws of our nation and avoid paying well-deserved penalties for his defiance of multiple federal court orders and his longstanding, growing and aggressive trespass on Bureau of Land Management and National Park lands.
"In a statement, the [Nevada Cattlemen's] association noted that Bundy's case had been reviewed by a federal judge, and that a legal decision had been rendered to remove the cattle. The statement said that NCA "does not feel it is in our best interest to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter, and in addition NCA believes the matter is between Mr. Bundy and the federal courts." ABC News April 7, 2014
Questions arise in this confrontation and everyone should go through their own process of discovery on this issue just as the Nevada Cattlemen's Association did before deciding not to support his actions (see above). Are these lands in question Mr. Bundy’s as has been so frequently claimed? Are these even state lands as Mr. Bundy asserts? Could Mr. Bundy’s family have gained rights to these lands from the State or Clark County? The simple answer to all these questions can be derived from knowing that the federal government gained title to these lands in 1848, the State of Nevada in their constitution reinforced this claim denying all claims to federal lands within their borders in 1864 (see second part of the Ordinance section) , and that the Bundy family did not arrive in Nevada until the 1870s or 1880s depending upon which family story you hear. (Hint the answer here and memorialized in several legal actions is: No)
"During a Moapa Valley town hall meeting last night, Bundy said he went to visit Sheriff Gillespie a few days ago but “found him hiding under the table”.
“He is the man that has constitutional jurisdiction and authority, he has policing power here in Clark County Nevada, and he has arresting power, so we elected him and we pay him, what do we pay him to do?” asked Bundy, adding, “Don’t we pay him to protect our life, liberty and property?” Alex Jones InfoWars April 10, 2014
"I want to stress to all of you that as the sheriff of Clark County I cannot interfere with the Federal government when it is operating on Federal land," [Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Douglas C.] Gillespie said. "And because this is BLM property, it is in their jurisdiction. But when a group of protesters threaten civil unrest or violence in this county — it is my job to step in and ensure the safety of citizens." CNN April 14, 2014
Now if you read Mr. Bundy’s voluminous legal arguments contained in documents submitted to the courts you will see that much thought has gone into developing the case that these lands—in his mind—should not still be owned by the federal government. While it is fine to hold these beliefs, if you are so inclined, laws and regulations are based on current conditions and not the desires of a spoiled welfare rancher who has thrown a 21-year tantrum because he was overgrazing his property and was told by his landlord—the federal government—to lower the number of cattle grazing on his allotment.
Glenn said, “I have people that graze on my land. And there is national land behind my ranch as well. And I know if anybody runs cattle on that, they also have to pay for grazing fees. Grazing fees are normal. And you stopped paying them. Your daughter said you did pay them for a while and then you stopped paying them. There are some people that would say that you are, if I may quote, a ‘welfare rancher’ because you’re not paying the fees that other ranchers do have to pay.” Glenn Beck in an interview with Cliven Bundy
Mr. Bundy had an opportunity to keep his lease, but his response was to stop paying his lease fees, continue grazing his cattle at a level that pleased him and expand his range use into other areas of BLM holdings that were closed to grazing and undergoing restoration projects financed by tax-payers like you and me. He modified these additional lands—the so-called New Trespass Lands—in manners that caused damage. And in the mode of all spoiled children given an inch without consequence, Mr. Bundy took the "mile" and now managers of the adjacent Lake Mead Recreational Area are subjected to visitations by Bundy’s errant and trespassing cattle that are causing safety issues as well as destroying habitat.
And when the BLM finally—after being pushed—started to take material action against Mr. Bundy who had be instructed not to interfere by a federal court order arrived at after two decades of trying to solve this situation administratively, Mr. Bundy declared a “range war,” whined and misled the media, catalyzed a dangerous situation by mobilizing the militia, and cost the American tax-payers even more money. I would also argue that he has hurt the reputations of law abiding ranchers as well as his fellow Mormons in the process as they witnessed the foul-language, threat-laden pugnaciousness exhibited by Bundy’s 14 children and their abettors in blocking this lawful action by the BLM.
Now how does this tie in with Cascadia and Cascadia Wildlands? Like all Americans and those who support our democracy worldwide, we are supremely offended by Mr. Bundy’s actions. We are a nation of laws arrived at through a long-standing and admittedly messy process, but it is the fabric that holds this nation together. And Cascadia Wildlands more often than not fights to make sure those laws protect the future well-being of all life and that they are adhered to and enforced. Mr. Bundy’s actions as well as those of unethical media outlets and militias spoiling for a fight—any fight—have purposely and with forethought torn that essential fabric to shreds in service of their own personal agenda and profit. And just like brain and legs fear the cancerous liver, we know that all our interests are in jeopardy if this stands unanswered and untreated.
To remain a civilized nation we cannot let the actions of one selfish man and his misguided minions dismantle our nation’s rule of law and stomp on the very flag they so vehemently claim to respect. To be clear, we frequently disagree with the BLM, but do not believe that their employees should be threatened with physical violence for simply carrying out their lawful duties. Moreover, we find it ironic that individuals protesting fossil fuel use and developments in a non-violent fashion are arrested and charged while these individuals who armed themselves and subverted a lawful, federal action are allowed to go home without apparent consequence.
Please join us (click here or below) in asking Cascadia's federal lawmakers to launch an immediate and comprehensive investigation into this matter including an examination of the role of potential media misstatements and the conspiring of the various out-of-state militias to interfere with the lawful actions of federal officers, putting them at physical risk.
Small victories have been piling up in Alaska. It’s starting to feel like spring (see Alexander Archipelago wolf pups at right from last spring).
Thanks to all of you who helped with the Cordova oil spill response port campaign. This little deepwater port project is a lynchpin to development on the Copper River and Prince William Sound, so it’s important we hold the line. Opposition to the Shepard Point road and its industrial deepwater port, and support for practical alternatives, dominated the public comments. Hopefully the Army Corps of Engineers with do the right thing and deny the permit. Meanwhile, we’re working with Eyak Preservation Council to develop plans for one of the alternative locations in Cordova.
Nationally, there has been some progress in the fight against approving AquaBounty’s genetically modified salmon, aka Frankenfish. Kroger and Safeway, the #2 and #4 groceries in the country, have joined the rising tide and forsworn AquaBounty’s genetically modified fish in their stores. While the final Food and Drug Administration decision and its timing remain a mystery, market pressure is becoming untenable.
On the Tongass National Forest, the Big Thorne old-growth timber sale remains on hold, pending consideration of the massive clearcutting project’s impact on the Alexander Archipelago wolf. State and federal official are holding what they call a “wolf task force”— although in this case the acronym, WTF is more apt — to think long and hard about whether clearcutting several thousand acres of old-growth is a bad idea, given that wolves seem to be disappearing as a result (see the above pup's mother at left).
A powerful clue came recently when Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity won a 90-day finding that listing may be warranted on their petition to list this unique wolf on the federal endangered species list. This is another step forward in the long process to ultimately listing the wolf. That’s an immensely powerful tool that could protect wolf habitat and the old-growth trees needed by their primary prey, Sitka deer.
Alaska politicians hate the Endangered Species Act. In fact they hate legal barriers to development of every stripe. Which brings me to the happy death of Alaska House Bill 77. It’s not often we lobby, but helping kill HB77 was an exception. HB77 was the governor’s wide-ranging bill to “streamline” all kinds of permitting, by erecting barriers to public participation and legal challenges. An inspiring tide of public opposition overwhelmed the politicians, and last week the bill died unceremoniously. It was surreal to testify before the legislature by teleconference, along with citizens from the Arctic coast, Bering Sea coast, Gulf coast, interior, and southeast. It was heartening to remember how many of us there really are.
When my wife and I lived in Santa Barbara our house was up a brushy canyon and we had trouble getting fire insurance. The real estate agent joked about an old saw in the area that goes something like this: It is not “if” your house is going to burn in Santa Barbara but “when.”
This saying is common in the area and our house—after we sold it and left Santa Barbara—did in fact burn to the ground during a canyon fire. Not only that, but it would have burned a second time had it been rebuilt. So certainly there was some truth in the saying, but is it too strong considering that some houses do not burn in Santa Barbara? Perhaps a more cautionary statement with caveats is in order including the use of so-called weasel words?
“The key is that suction dredging represents a chronic unnatural disturbance of natural habitats that are already likely to be stressed by other factors and can therefore have a negative impact on fishes that use the reach being dredged.” Dr. Peter B. Moyle
Every scientist who has ever written a recommendation or a report is familiar with the term “weasel words.” Those are the words that we have been trained to use. We use them because we have been aggressively taught the necessity to be “right” much more often than we are “wrong.” In this context, we also are all painfully aware that when we test something and are 95% sure that it works that way, 5% of the time it will not. Pop go the weasel words and we preload our statements with this uncertainty.
“Timber harvesting could possibly cause what is likely an inevitable event to occur sooner.” Noel Wolff, a hydrologist who worked for Washington State writing about the timber harvest above the deadly landslide on the Snohomish River in Washington in the Seattle Times
But those who interpret “may” as “won’t” or “could” as “will not,” do so at great peril (see AP photo of the Oso, Washington mudslide at left). This becomes even more problematic when we deal with complex, multi-variant natural systems where uncertainty and confusion are accounted for with even more cautious language and phrasing.
Interestingly, the level of complexity and the level of consequence often track one another. Unfortunately, the financial rewards of inaction also track both these measures too. So the fiscal benefits to the fossil-fuel industry, timber companies, livestock interests and suction dredgers for actively clouding the science on climate change, geological stability, predator-prey relationships and disturbing rivers are incentivized. Essentially the complexity provides both opportunities and shelter for those wanting to invest profitably in misinformation.
Original Language: "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
Modified Language: "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
Weasel words come from this caution, but they are also frequently injected into documents for political and economic reasons too (see language changes above from 2002 report on climate change). Climate change policy documents in this country are rife with statements that are altered not by the scientists themselves but by those who edit or provide comments in order to dampen the call for action.
Likewise, many of these documents and the cautions of scientists are removed via the consensus process that is sometimes insisted on by special interests groups. A good example of this is to compare habitat comments and recommendations relating to forestry and grazing practices in a document prepared by black-tail deer biologists and one completed under a consensus process that included timber and livestock interests in Oregon.
The “take home” messages here are to listen carefully to what scientists say and why. The insurance industry has done this well and as a consequence was one of the first industries to recognize the perils of climate change. Some sportsmen groups and hunters are starting to understand that prey species are more often limited by habitat and land management regimes than by predators. And legislators in Maine recently listened to the message delivered by scientists and will no longer allow suction dredging in Class AA rivers occupied by important salmon and trout species. Keeping it wild means paying attention to the science–weasel words and all–and letting that point both to peril and also opportunities to make the world a little wilder.
By Bob Ferris
So much of what we do to keep things wild involves sound—embracing the good ones versus fighting the offensive. For instance, we want wolves howling in the wilderness but don’t want to hear the constant lawnmower-motor burping of suction dredge engines in our wild spaces.
Similarly, we much prefer to listen to the wind whistling through tall trees in the Elliott State Forest and the gentle “keer”of marbled murrelets to the rip-snort of a chainsaw. The same is true for rushing waters and waves as opposed to off-highway vehicles and jet boats.
We all have similar catalogues of good and bad sounds. What we hear and experience through our auditory senses seems almost as important as what we harvest in wilderness through our eyes, nose, feet and fingers.
This importance of good sounds is probably why we at Cascadia Wildlands convene so many events over and around music. Good sounds bring us together. Take Pints Gone Wild hosted by Ninkasi Brewery on the first Monday of each month. That gathering is all about good sounds—old favorites, new artists and those making joyful or innovative noise for the wildlands we love. All of them generously donating their time to help us keep it wild.
But it does not end there because we also have special events such as the upcoming one at Luckey’s Club on April 12 and our barn-burner (figuratively not literally) Hoedown for Ancient Forests on May 10th.
And it is not just about our own music events. We will also be at the Oregon Country Fair and String Summit again this summer. So please come to these events and tell your friends. There is really no rule out there that says we cannot have major amounts of fun while taking material actions to keep it wild.
“Kathy Jones, Seneca Jones’ co-owner, said her company didn’t bid on the land because her mill needs lumber but because she and her two sisters refused to be bullied by “eco-radical” environmental groups and believed no other timber companies made an offer.” Oregonian April 2, 2014
We do not traditionally respond well to ironic comments made by timber industry owners. That is why we thought that we would respond comically to the Seneca Jones sisters calling us and others essentially “environmental bullies” when they buy timber that they claim that they do not need, simply to make a point. Ridiculous actions deserve ridiculous responses.
The only point they have made is that they have enough money to spend it recklessly. So we thought that we would respond with humor appropriate with their attempt to buy bits of the Elliott at pennies on our dollars. (Please click on "movie poster" to the right to get the full effect)
Offensive? Maybe. But we find it offensive for a timber company to ask for more discounted public resources so that they can have additional wherewithal to buy timber they do not need.
“They’re elitist environmentalists, they’re sent from Washington D.C., they’re not about doing anything reasonable,” she said. “The hypocrisy is without limit. And we’re sick and tired of it in the state.” Seneca Jones Co-Owner Kathy Jones in the Oregonian April 2, 2014
Perhaps—judging from the above quote—the sisters think that they have truly enchanted us. That seems like the only logical explanation when you have the plane-flying, horseback-riding, SCUBA-diving sisters calling people living on the economic edge “elitists.” And as to being sent from Washington DC, my sense is that these three forget how much time they and their lobbyists spend in our nation’s capital and hope that we do also.
The enchantment theory might also explain why the sisters might think that their “vision” for the Elliott expressed so well by this photograph at left of a Seneca Jones clearcut at dawn being sprayed with herbicides by helicopter matches Oregonian’s vision for our precious public lands. And for all those out there touting the wildlife habitat benefits of clearcutting, please show me the elk and deer habitat created here or in the photograph at right of a Seneca clearcut and landslide. This is not what we need or want in the Elliott.
“Clearcutting mimics nature,” Jones said in an interview. “If these lands are awarded to us, and we maintain them as we do all of our private timberlands, we will be clearcutting and replanting Douglas fir.” Timber Company Says It Will Clearcut If It Buys Public Forestland in EarthFix April 3, 2014
And for those who think we are over stating our case, the above quote from Seneca Jones sister Kathy speaks volumes about their scorched earth policy.
Join us and help support our efforts to find a conservation solution that helps all of us and protects some of the last and largest stands of mature, native forest in coastal Oregon.
By Bob Ferris
"While some people are skeptical about the subject, the condition of “gold fever” really does exist. I know, because I have felt the heat and confusion on more than one occasion." Dave McCracken
If there is truly such a thing such as “gold fever” in the West, Dave McCracken—or Dave Mack as he has self-styled himself—is the virus-infected-blanket of that disease. Part aspiring Indiana Jones and part cheerleader, Dave Mack is the leader of the New 49ers (as if the old 49ers did not do enough damage) and he has staked out a claim and is defending a business empire in a mysterious land that seems to naturally hover around the margins of legality and often stomps all over legal intent. He appears supremely comfortable in that Peter Pan land where the boys and girls of suction dredging can live and never grow up.
If you think the above claim about the The New 49ers and Mr. McCracken living on the legal edge is an exaggeration then perform the following informative exercise:
1) Read California Penal Code Section 320.5 relating to the operation of raffles.
2) Check the California Charitable Registry listings for The New 49ers or The New 49ers Legal Fund using the handy search function.
3) Do a Google search on the term “New 49ers Legal Fund” and see if you can find anything that resembles a raffle as well as evidence that the raffle was conducted on the internet or that funds from a California raffle might to be used in another state (Hint: you might look 1,2,3,4).
4) Re-read the penal code section, cook up some popcorn and tally your results while watching the above video.
Mr. McCracken sells gold dredges, teaches classes and runs a club that is part classroom and dredger indoctrination center involving a complicated scheme that puts gold club members and machines on claims and money in his pockets in ways that were never anticipated by the 1872 Mining Law. While those who have plunked down up to $3500 to be life members of the New 49ers Club see this as about gold, McCracken himself characterizes it as a "progressive tourism program (with a gold mining theme)" in his on-line resume. Ironically, he and his followers are overwhelmingly from the anti-government camp, yet are supremely dependent on federal lands, state waterways and natural resources that are owned by all of us for their existence.
Dave Mack also looks to be the go-to guy when mischief or high school prank-like advocacy is needed. I can almost imagine some sort of situation where the suction dredging leadership comes together and in times of desperation loudly proclaims: Release the McCracken.
They released the McCracken in early 2013 and unleashed it on the suction dredge moratorium that was passed in California in 2009. The result was that we saw the emergence of the suction dredge that was not a dredge because it was missing the sluice (see above and below illustrations). A petition and court action eventually took that loophole out of the law.
This year they released the McCracken again and now we are seeing the introduction of the suction dredge that does not suck but blows. And even through the device developers may have earned themselves a place in the Worst Marketing Slogan Hall of Fame with the catch phrase “We used to suck and now we blow,” they clearly do not understand or are trying to actively mischaracterize the physics that makes all these dredges work. Suction dredges and this device too all work on the principle of creating a vacuum (i.e., suction) by forcing water up a hose and having other water–through the nozzle or this hopper arrangement–be pulled in to replace the displaced water.
I am all for humor—like the poorly photo-shopped picture of me gold panning at the beginning of this piece—and an occasional harmless prank, but the suction dredgers and Dave McCracken have taken this to a level where the mischief causes harm, thumbs its nose at our nation's courts and legislatures, and costs taxpayers money. Moreover, there is something truly sophomoric about these actions that seem ultimately as destructive as the suction dredging itself. Why as a society are we in anyway tolerant of these behaviors?
And more importantly, why are we letting a small, but very vocal and pugnacious minority intimidate us into allowing them to materially impact rivers and waterways where we are investing millions in efforts to restore salmon species that benefit us all? This becomes increasingly questionable when we understand that we are letting this miniscule segment of the population tear up gravel bars and riffles in waterways that have been closed to fishing because their salmon populations are too vulnerable to allow that disturbance. (Please listen to campaign partners Kim McDonald and Kent Lufkin on the Open Fly Show, their part starts about minute 24.)
These and other inappropriate behaviors–including the threats to those with opposing views–become increasingly relevant as we think about the future fate of the moratorium in California, consider adjustments to regulations in Oregon, and contemplate appropriate controls in Washington state. Laws and regulations for those who have a history of obeying laws and behaving civilly are necessarily different than similar actions for those who have demonstrated disrespect for laws and frequently behave like rebellious teenagers and thugs.
We all need to work together to put the McCracken back in the bottle and secure the cork tightly. Our precious salmon and wildland experiences should not be victims of his efforts (and those of the "McCrackheads" in the above videos) to find loopholes in the 1872 Mining Law and legislation enacted to reduce the impact of this destructive enterprise. Please join our efforts in Cascadia, specifically on actions in Oregon and Washington, to make sure that this brand of "gold fever" does not spread and compromise our real wealth.
By Bob Ferris
OK, I am feeling nostalgic today. In part it is because of the treasures (or detritus) I find on my desk. To wit:
1—An old Herder’s folding knife I bought more than 50 years ago from the Eddie Bauer catalog when they were actually outfitters.
2—A copy of Animal Heroes by Ernest Thompson Seton (1905) stamped with the mysterious name Prassede Calabi on the backside of the frontispiece (thank you Suzanne Stone).
3—A Tarahumara Indian pine needle basket filled with paper clips, fool’s gold and an old wood screw (thank you Scotty Johnson).
4—A vintage M.A. Hadley sailing ship coffee mug with “low tide” emblazoned on the bottom (thanks Dad).
Also contributing to this reflectiveness were a recent discussion about the Rev. William J. Long, Theodore Roosevelt and the “nature faker” controversy with friend and supporter Shawn Donnille of Mountain Rose Herbs and a piece I wrote about some of the nonsensical, anti-wolf rhetoric coming out of Guy Eastman. Collectively, they made me think about times past. Times not so much in my past but within reach of my past through people I have known and experiences touched and molded by that past. For me touching the past is often a gateway for envisioning the future.
I come from a family of readers and also writers in an avocational sense. Two of my great-grandmothers were writers and my grandmother too. In fact, my grandmother ties this all together (sort of) in that she—just before she married my grandfather—co-authored an article for Field and Stream magazine (February 1916) about her camping experiences in and around Seward, Alaska just before the Roaring Twenties burst onto the scene.
My grandfather (pictured at left in 1911 near Lake Tahoe) was in Alaska with the newly formed Forest Service and my grandmother was pretty much the schoolmarm who had followed her sister and banker brother-in-law to Alaska for adventure. Their chance meeting in Seward eventually produced my mother.
I bring up Field and Stream magazine because it is a little like the violin in the movie The Red Violin in that a story can be told through time around it. Field and Stream was born and matured during the early days of the conservation movement. This was a time when Abercrombie and Fitch (named after real people) was a respected adventure brand that sold high-end expedition equipment and was the first such store to carry outdoor attire for women. I visited the old A&F store once in San Francisco before it closed and it was like a candy shop for a young boy enthralled by the out-of-doors.
Eddie Bauer, also a real person, grew up during this time in Cascadia and was having the cold weather experiences that ultimately led to his development of quilted down apparel and sleeping bags that launched his own outdoor gear empire. He too would likely not recognize his brand today.
This period also saw the launch of Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts in America with naturalist and conservationist Ernest Thompson Seton writing the first US Boy Scout manual in 1911. Seton was a former trapper who captured the famous wolf "Lobo" and through that process–much like Aldo Leopold–realized that wolves needed to be preserved rather than persecuted and annihilated.
You can see his respect for predators throughout the first US Boy Scout manual and then more directly in the imagery and symbolism of the Cub Scouts. The Cub Scout animal totems were wolves, bears, and lions (WEBELOS until the latter 1960s meant wolves, bears and lions) directly taken from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book with “packs” and “dens” being led by Akela—Kipling’s wise wolf. It should be noted here that “respect for predators” in this context does not mean that they are never killed or managed, but that they are not treated disrespectfully, cruelly or targeted for persecution.
This period—1907-1951—was also the time of Eltinge F. Warner who took control of a failing Field and Stream magazine in 1908. Mr. Warner was a Princeton educated mid-Westerner who fully embraced conservation, understood the value of science, was mainly respectful of wildlife agencies. As a result he was able, with the help of managing editor Warren Hastings Miller, to attract world-class writers and outdoors people such as Ernest Thompson Seton, Aldo Leopold, Gifford Pinchot, and Zane Grey.
The magazine also served for a time as the house organ for the Campfire Fire Club of America founded by William Hornaday of bison preservation fame who wanted to create an everyman Boone and Crockett Club-like organization. That is not to say that there were not some questionable antics described by writers on its pages during this period like shooting mountain goats from planes and roping cougars, but times were a little wilder then and all of this has to be taken within the context of the era.
Warner was a classic, cigar-chomping publisher who dealt with a number of magazines including The Smart Set where he navigated a relationship with H.L. Menken. He was also rumored to have been the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Eltynge in The Beautiful and the Damned and he served as an early movie producer for Zane Greys’ westerns. The point of this digression is that Warner was cosmopolitan, progressive and he along with his magazine were also excellent ambassadors for hunting, angling and other outdoor pursuits. In short, he acted as a connecter bringing together diverse people, disciplines and viewpoints. This strikes me as a sharp contrast to the actions of folks like Guy Eastman or the infamous and alienating Phil Robertson of Duck Commando fame.
In fly fishing a good backcast is essential for a good forward cast. I think the same is true for conservation. As we look to find ways forward and past the manufactured divisiveness we now see, one of the first steps in my mind is understanding our true roots. The productive successes wrought by those early pioneers in conservation were accomplished by progressive thinkers who consistently embraced science, fought exploitative industries and actions, had strong ethical codes, looked for ways to work together and had respect for animals—including predators. When we pick or support our future leaders, they should cut a similar profile.
By Bob Ferris
About a decade ago I watched a giant front-end loader pull a metal culvert that was restricting fish passage out of a steelhead stream in Southern California. It was fun to watch and gratifying because my organization at the time had a hand in making it happen, but I did not for one second think that front-end loaders in streams were always good for fish. I suspect being part of a discipline like ecology that has a lot of special rules and exceptions helps with this type of discernment.
I wonder if suction dredge miners have this same discernment “chip” or if they hope others do not. The reason I raise this issue is that dredgers seem to be promoting the notion that because suction dredges are occasionally used to clean gravel beds in waterways hopelessly choked with silt or to move materials quickly, that suction dredgers and dredges are actually good for fish.
One example that at least one miner is using to seemingly prove this point is his participation in an impressive restoration project on the East Fork of the Lewis River near Vancouver, Washington (see above from Northwest Mineral Prospectors Club facebook page). This project was undertaken by Friends of the East Fork who are really doing some incredible work to restore chum salmon and other salmonid runs in fish-poor wastelands created by gravel mining and other activities.
While I would like to commend suction dredgers for the work of some dredgers to restore streams and rivers, that does not balance out or change the fact that they are doing much more damage at other times. (The above poster of this Facebook story, for example, neglected to mention his Hydraulic Project Approval permit issued in 2009 to move up to 50 cubic yards of material in the same waterway system). Can suction dredges be an effective tool for fish habitat restoration? Yes in rare instances, but the same can also be said for dynamite, front-end loaders and other agents of destruction.
Suction dredgers are also quick to crow about how much lead they remove from waterways as a rationale for their presence on the water. This too is not as it seems. While lead is certainly a huge problem for birds while it remains mixed with the surface materials and accessible, legacy lead—older lead that is buried—is not as serious a problem once it sinks beyond the reach of birds.
With the banning of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991 and awareness in the fishing community about the dangers of certain lead devices, "new" lead in the system has been greatly reduced and the rest continues to do what lead does best: Sink. Therefore, claims of massive amounts of lead recovered by suction dredgers has less to do with environmental benefit and more to with massive amounts of materials moved and damage to waterways and streambeds.
The Mercury Blues
"The impacts of suction dredging on mercury mobilization and transport are potentially more significant than what is presented in the report." From Mercury section of External Peer Review of the Water Quality Impacts of Suction Dredging for Gold Presented in the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report of February, 2011
Another of the “benefit myths” promulgated by suction dredgers and probably the most complicated is the one dealing with mercury removal. We all know that mercury contamination is an important environmental issue and that gold miners polluted waterways with this toxic metal during gold rushes of the past. While it is commendable that suction dredge gold miners want to remediate the sins of their predecessors, the question remains: Are they best equipped to do it? And when that question has been asked of experts, the answer given is: No.
Gravel and cobbles that entered the sluice at high velocity caused the mercury to flour, or break into tiny particles. Flouring was aggravated by agitation, exposure of mercury to air, and other chemical reactions.
"Gravel and cobbles that entered the sluice at high velocity caused the mercury to flour, or break into tiny particles. Flouring was aggravated by agitation, exposure of mercury to air, and other chemical reactions." From Mercury Contamination from Historical Gold Mining in California
A study conducted in 2005 that examined the removal of mercury by suction dredges found that the dredges removed 97% of the elemental mercury. This is the finding that the suction dredgers tend to focus on and promote. But there is a "Paul Harvey" moment here too, and that is that the discharge from those dredges would be considered a toxic waste and contains “floured” mercury which is mercury that is easily transformed into a biologically harmful form and transported in the river current. An independent review of the 2005 study reinforced the findings and said that the peril described was conservative.
The basic message being that it is better to leave the mercury where it is and undisturbed than to try and remove it with recreational suction dredges. Now suction dredgers—wanting to confuse the issue—have claimed that a proposal to remove mercury from Combie Reservoir in the foothills of the Sierra using modified suction dredges for sediment acquisition proves that suction dredgers should be allowed to perform this “service” and they see this as equivalent to their actions. My only possible and appropriate response is: Poppycock.
The proposed Combie project protocol takes the water and sediments, and pumps them into what is essentially an onshore laboratory which uses centrifuges to extract elemental mercury (see above excerpt from Combie plan). Then the remaining materials are subjected to sophisticated magnetic and chemical treatments, before being sent to the equivalent of a high-tech sewage treatment facility with frequent testing happening at every step of the process. Comparing recreational suction dredge mining with the above process is about as appropriate as comparing an abacus with a modern calculator.
Dredging Only Mimics Natural Processes
The last related myth we see is that some are arguing that suction dredging mimics natural processes like storm events and what suction dredgers do is no different than what nature does. There are obvious problems with that in terms of timing and magnitude. Our salmon have evolved over the years to make the best use of fluctuating, but fairly predictable cycles of rain, snow melt and dryness. The lifecycles and life stages of these fish are dependent on these cycles. Suction dredges inject disturbance during a time when these systems are least able to deal with disturbance.
The magnitude issue is a little more complicated. Winter storms bring massive changes to rivers, streams, and other waterways. These seem absolutely chaotic and without pattern or purpose, yet they also leave significant elements and often those are gravel beds and riffles that have become “armored” by a complex combination of cobble, gravel and silt over time. Suction dredging disassembles these structures and redeposits the constituent parts in tailings that are more likely to be scoured from the streambed.
While this may be characterized as trivial in the big picture view of rivers and tributaries, when you are dealing with endangered and challenged fish, actions that cause or are likely to cause redd failure cannot be allowed or enabled.
People who love an activity are very resistant to being told that it causes problems. Because of that, a system of myths has been developed by those who want to feel good about their actions or who gain economically from the continuance of the activity. Unfortunately, for the former, these myths are simply not supported by science or experience.
By Bob Ferris
The New York Times op-ed by Arthur Middleton questioning the strength of evidence in Yellowstone of wolf-generated trophic cascades and urging more cautious messaging on trophic cascades by conservation groups and wolf advocates has spawned a fire-storm of debate. And that is good and healthy in terms of what science should do and also in terms of raising public awareness about the complexity of ecosystems and ecological interactions. The public should know that simple models about ecosystems are illustrative of how a set of processes might interact rather than a set of rules that ecosystems must always obey. Ecosystems and ecology are complicated and that is why many of us are drawn to this discipline.
This whole debate reminds me of the old “tastes great, less filling” beer commercials we used to see on TV. This is not to diminish the importance of either of these experimentally supported points of view but rather to put them in perspective. Certainly both parties to the debate have arguments for their particular view point and the reality is that beer can taste great and be less filling. And likewise ecosystems can be driven simultaneously by top-down and bottom-up forces.
Now anti-wolf forces can and will gravitate to this debate with the idea of gleaning material arguments for why wolves should not have been reintroduced or recovered, but they should remember that neither of the folks in those dated commercials hates beer. In point of fact, the strength of their debate is influenced by their strong feelings about beer and the same is similarly true about wolves and wolf biologists.
Ecological theory and ecosystem models are made better by healthy debate. Those leaning towards the bottom-up camp improve their lens by being challenged by the top-down theorist and vice versa. In addition, the public should learn some from this unfolding debate about the way ecosystems and science work. And anti-wolf factions who want to make hay about this need to remember that both sides of the beverage debate held beers firmly in their grasps. All in this particular debate feel that wolves are strong and necessary actors in this and other wild places and none of them subscribe to the notion that wolf recovery should not take place.
Let’s raise a glass to the wolf.
By Bob Ferris
The above clip came to mind when I was dealing with a recent posting on a fishing site about suction dredge mining in Washington State. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition and most are not prepared for the onslaught of vitriol, misinformation, threats and bullying typically unleashed by the suction dredge crowd anytime anyone questions their “rights” to run wild and go motorized in our precious and vulnerable salmon-bearing waterways.
This rapid fire electronic carpet bombing by internet trolls is part of an escalating pattern that we have seen over the past decade or so as the idea of sucking up gravel and silt from the bottom of rivers and streams using noisy machines has gained public scrutiny and attention.
Another element of this pattern are states and federal agencies that are wholly unprepared to deal with this issue. Collectively they have historically worked to enable and simplify permitting without giving any substantive thought to the need for monitoring, enforcement and a consideration of the cumulative and material impacts of this destructive activity—particularly in waterways with struggling salmonids. The agencies are as unprepared for this assault as we often are.
In Washington State the agencies seem much like Bambi—the fawn portrayed above. They have written a nice pamphlet and have a rudimentary permitting program. They have even formed some ill-advised partnerships with suction dredge miners to undertake mercury removal in spite of strong and repeated evidence that this is not a good idea. And now the “Godzilla” created by the ban in California and the restrictions in Oregon is striding purposely towards them one giant, reverberating footfall at a time. Boom.
And who exactly is this horde presently in and now heading north to Washington State? If you read the comments section of this site and the steelhead site as well as follow what the miners are doing in Southern Oregon, the answer to that is not positive. In short, they are generally folks with extreme views and behaviors with a high level of resentment to regulation. And even though they appear largely without advanced education—as evidenced by spelling, grammar and correctness of expression—they appear to lack a corresponding humility because their frequent claims to know more about law than lawyers and more about fish and fisheries impacts than ichthyologists.
The suction dredge miners are also monumentally unaware. Cascadia is a region defined by rivers frequently named for and still held sacred by tribes working hard to cling to their aquatic heritage. These are important and valued characteristics of the region to many of us who work with tribes to fulfill the dream of recovered salmon runs and fully functioning coastal ecosystems. This is in sharp contrast to the overtly racist tone we frequently see from suction dredgers in comment sections. The quote above (click to enlarge) from a poster known as Terry McClure is particularly offensive but it is by no means unique.
In addition, one of the frequent commenters on the Washington dredge piece is a fellow who dredges throughout Cascadia and also sells dredge concentrates on the internet to those who want to pay $50 a pop to pan for gold. This dredger’s LLC is called Blue Sky Gold Mining which sounds very close to the title of the song by the Australian rock group Midnight Oil—Blue Sky Mining—that became an environmental anthem highlighting the deleterious impacts of mining. I wonder if he understands the irony in that name?
And I wonder if salmon restoration supporters, the tribes, Washington legislators and the state and federal agencies can come together to deal with the existing issue and the looming increase before our salmon and waterways pay the price of this laissez-faire approach to suction dredgers. Join Fish not Gold and get active.