Earth Day Focus: bull trout

By Pat Neal, as printed in the Sequim Gazette, 4.24.02

Pat Neal uses an excellent tongue-in-cheek method of conveying what’s happening with the Dungeness River in Sequim.

Sequim, WA  - 4/24/02 – Someone recently asked me what Earth Day means to me.

Okay, so no one actually asked that question, but who cares?  I have always been a big fan of Earth Day.  If it wasn’t for Earth Day, we’d have one less holiday.

Usually I like to take Earth Day off work, if I have a job, and try to do something to “save the environment.”

The most difficult part about “saving the environment” is figuring out just what that means.  For example, this Earth Day, I am protesting our nation’s chronic dependence on fossil fuel by not driving my truck for a day.  So what if my truck is broke down, the point is I’m not going to fix it until the day after Earth Day when none of this eco-babble will matter for another year.  I feel good about that.  Otherwise, you would be reading an environmental degradation column that would make your head spin.  It’s a win-win situation.

We like to think that if we just spend enough money, we are “saving the environment.”  I know what you’re thinking, how our state’s economy has already sunk the governor more than a jillion dollars in the red.  Our county government is broke and getting broker.  The jail is filled up and they’re not making another one.  Social services for people who aren’t in jail are stretched to the absolute limit.  This leaves many people wondering where we are going to get the money to “save the environment.”

That’s why we are so lucky to have the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The ESA was the greatest thing ever invented to “save the environment.”  Because if you are lucky enough or $savvy enough to document or invent an endangered species, your money worries are over.  Having an endangered species can open a floodgate of slush funds you never dreamed existed while the government was crying “broke” and trying to raise your taxes.

The Dungeness River, home of that celebrated endangered species, the bull trout, is an excellent case in point.  The bull trout is a half-baked relation to the dolly varden, a species of char.  Whatever you call them, these fish are voracious predators that feed on the eggs and young of other fish that may be endangered species themselves.  The fact that one endangered species can endanger another should surprise no one.  They’re just dumb animals.  They get really hungry.  I’ve seen these char choke down a smolt half as long as they are, then gulp down a glob of rotten fish eggs for dessert.

The bull trout doesn’t care if he just ate an endangered baby spring Chinook, summer chum, steelhead or pink salmon, and neither do I.

I have always thought that the best way to save endangered species was to make them not endangered any more.  We should use the technology that created a worldwide glut of salmon to save native fish runs.

I know this will never work.  Now that there are so many salmon, fish aren’t worth anything.  It just doesn’t make sense to spend millions saving a fish like the pink salmon that might only be worth a nickel a pound to a commercial net fisherman.  So forget about saving the salmon.  They’re worth more as endangered species.

As it turns out, the best way to ‘save the environment’ is to buy it.  That’s why the government is buying up land along the Dungeness River.  Of course we cannot over-emphasize the fact these will be ‘willing’ sellers.

Many people living along the river are ‘willing’ sellers, but they just don’t know it yet.  Once people are denied a permit to fix the dike that stops the river from flooding their homes, they could become ‘willing sellers’ overnight.

Others wonder why they shouldn’t be able to control flooding in a way that enhances the fisheries.  The river is, after all, private property – a strange ownership for a river in this country.  People wonder why they can’t fix up their own property.  After all, the water diversions for the irrigation ditches are armored with large rock and concrete.  It’s difficult for some people to accept the fact they cannot employ these measures to save their own homes from the river, until I explain it to them.

That’s because in today’s environmental world of the future, a man’s castle is worth less than an irrigation ditch or a bull trout.

That is what Earth Day means to me.

(Pat Neal writes a regular Wildlife column for the Sequim Gazette in Sequim, WA)


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