30 May 2007

Lakes are Opening Up

With the unusually warm weather this spring, our mountain lakes are opening up a little early. Some years, I have found ice-out in early July. The fish feed greedily at ice-out, but it's also the time of the first big mosquitoe hatches. I've never quite appreciated the woodsy song of the little blood suckers buzzing around my ears, as Thoreau said he did.

Many of our lakes are stocked (air dropped) periodically with fingerling trout, but some of them also have good naturally reproducing populations. Virtually all of our alpine lakes were originally devoid of fish, though they must have had plenty of other native species. It is unfortunate that some native species in these lakes must have been displaced or impacted by the great trout planting movement of 50 to 100 years ago. But for those of us who like to hike in the mountains and eat fresh trout, the lakes do provide a wonderful experience.

Here are a few Yellowstone (?) cutthroat trout from a nearby mountain lake. Mabye they are westslope cutts, but for some reason the lakes were usually planted with Yellowstones. Beautiful fish, they'll be spawning at the lake inlet in a few weeks or so.

And it's nice to have a patch of snow near the trailhead as a place to stash a beer for the drive home:

Last week's snowstorm dropped some much needed moisture, and we are well above average for the year. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Big Hole River flows (which is dewatered even in average precipitation years, of late). At any rate, it was a "warm" snow and did not seem to harm the apple blossoms on Butte's few but hardy trees:

And the on-average warm spring has the bitterroots ready to bloom:

29 May 2007

Endangered Friendship

I ran into a Big Hole River rancher this past weekend. It was someone that I worked with on various committees for about 10 years, and I considered them a friend. He no longer felt that way, and simply glared at me when we met.

I am sure it is because of my recent public stance for placing Big Hole River grayling on the Endangered Species List. How many Big Hole Watershed Committee meetings did I sit through where the agricultural representatives said things like, "We need to keep grayling off the endangered species list." Seldom was the rhetoric about recovering grayling, ensuring that there were more grayling in the river, or enhancing habitat and river flows to maximize grayling survival.

It was as if the Endangered Species Act and groups that supported a grayling ESA listing were the enemy. And grayling? They were just a proxy for how people felt about nature--nature that could be reduced to a simple matter of profit, property rights, and power.

How to explain to such people?

"Look, my friend, it's like a sick child. If your child has a mild ear infection, what would you do to help them? Maybe sacrifice half-a-day's work to take them to the clinic, maybe even pay out $50 for an antibiotic. You certainly wouldn't take a doctor to court who refused to help your child, nor would you demonstrate in front of a pharmacy that wouldn't provide the medicine.

"But what if your child were dying of a deadly disease that could be cured? Would you publicly criticize doctors and the medical establishment that refused care? Hell, you'd probably take a doctor at gunpoint or rob a pharmacy if you thought it would help!"

Big Hole River grayling are a dying child. Without help, they may well perish from the face of the earth. Can my rancher friend understand this?

Probably not. Take the Watershed Committee. There is endless talk, talk, talk about collaboration. It's a sort of meet-in-the-middle approach like Solomon's infamous decision regarding the baby disputed over by two mothers. Sadly, the Big Hole Watershed Committee is perfectly willing to split the baby -- i.e. grayling -- down the middle. The Watershed Committee would allow grayling to perish rather than to question water rights or demand economic sacrifice.

Another former friend, a conservationist no less, argued that, "An ESA listing will not put more grayling in the river!"

Well, I have to ask, how many more grayling are in the river after more than ten years of Big Hole Watershed Committee collaboration? Hell, let's face it: There are FAR FEWER Big Hole River grayling than we had before the Watershed Committee was formed.

I have no doubt that an ESA listing for Big Hole River grayling will come. But it may well come too late. I fully expect that, ten years from now, we will be doing with fluvial Arctic grayling very much like what we did with gray wolves: we will be importing grayling from Canadian rivers to re-establish populations throughout the upper Missouri River basin. And, just as ranchers learned to cope with wolf recovery and the required changes in agricultural management, so will they learn to cope with grayling recovery and the required changes in water management.

23 May 2007

Big Hole River Grayling, Image Events, and Mind Bombs

Environmental groups and other activists face a real challenge in capturing media attention and garnering public support. The problem is not that people do not care, but that they are distracted by the countless details of their own personal lives, the beating of drums for national issues such as imperialist wars against foreign nations, and the constant din of ringing phones and text messages and email etc. Add to this the deluge of media messages to buy more Big Macs, lose weight, and take a new boner drug and we're left with an attention span just wide enough to bridge a gnat's ass.

No wonder, then, that no one wants to understand the subtleties of what a "Distinct Population Segment" means for the Endangered Species Act or of how few motorized areas will actually be closed in a new Forest Management Plan.

The fact is, we live in a sound (and sight) byte world. If you can't get your message across quickly and in an entertaining fashion, then no one is going to care.

This is why "image events," or "mind bombs" if you prefer, are so useful. An image event is a brief narrative with a powerful psychological effect that changes the way people think. The classic image event, as described by visual rhetoric scholar Kevin DeLuca, was the Greenpeace "save the whales" news clip.

The year was 1975. The war against Vietnam was over. Greenpeace had just begun. Star Wars was soon to debut. Presidential candidate Reagan was hyping up public fear of the USSR--the Evil Empire. Americans were beginning to think of whales as an oversize but lovable and super-intelligent pet--like the dolphin star of the popular 1960s TV series "Flipper."

So there they were, a couple of harmless, peacable, hippie-next-door kids in a little inflatable boat. The Zodiac is a tiny boat dwarfed by the dark, looming Russian whaling ships. The kids next door are putting their lives in danger for our friend the whale. The little rubber raft positions itself between a harpoon ship and a lovable whale and then BLAM! the cannon-fired harpoon whooshes over their head, the poor whale is murdered, and the steel harpoon cable tightens just a few feet from the raft. [photo below from Greenpeace.org]

The Greenpeace activists get it all on video, and within a few days the clip is broadcast again and again by TV network news. Millions of Americans view it. They are outraged by the cruel Russians and sympathetic to the gentle hippie kids next door. Soon, American politicians caved to public pressure and supported an international ban on whaling.

How ideal it would be if we lived in ancient Athens, where Socrates, his students, and others would spend hours just talking, talking, talking about the issues of the day. Imagine a world where people had the time and patience to think deeply about a particular issue, and to follow a train of thought from beginning to end. What luxury!

Instead, we live in a world where politics can twist law and science into a pretzel because most Americans are simply too busy to give it much thought. And so to save a whale -- or a grayling -- we need to thrust a powerful image through the eye and down into the limbic brain. A good image will evoke love and outrage, support for and oppostion against.

The image must tap into extant culture types, ideologies, associated images/discourse, and other popular symbolic structures. While words/text are important, the image carries the main message. And yes, McLuhan got it write: the medium is the message.

The less people have to think about what they see (when they see it), the more they will think about what they see (after they see it). If the image event meshes with other efforts -- such as political campaigns or legal challenges -- the image event can aid greatly the support for and hence the effectiveness of such efforts. Image events build a participatory style of democracy that will not leave decisions in the hands of political sycophants or the technocratic elite.

Kevin DeLuca (1999). Image politics: the new rhetoric of environmental activism.
Robert Hunter and R Wheyler (1978). To save a whale: the voyages of Greenpeace.

22 May 2007

Warm Springs Ponds: the future of a Superfund site

Warm Springs Ponds and the 3 Rs (adapted from a KUFM radio commentary)

The three Rs of Superfund : “Reclamation, Remediation, and Restoration.”

If we go by the book, the three Rs have distinct definitions. Reclamation is the broadest term—something like a genus in biology. You know, like the genus “Canis,” which takes in wolves, dogs, and coyotes. Reclamation is a fuzzy notion.

Mining engineers define reclamation as “returning damaged land to a beneficial use.” British Petroleum-ARCO likes to call itself a “partner in responsible reclamation.” As the legally responsible party in the Clark Fork Superfund mess, BP-ARCO is responsible for a lot more than reclamation! But if BP-ARCO can pull off a cheap reclamation job that masquerades as remedy, it will do that. Look at the golf course or all those ball fields built on mine dumps.

Remedy is defined under federal Superfund law as the “removal or treatment of hazardous material to protect human and environmental health.” The removal of toxic mine waste along Silver Bow Creek is remedy. EPA oversees remedy, and the decision that makes it official is called a Record of Decision.

Restoration is a legal term defined under the state version of Superfund law as “returning injured natural resources to baseline conditions or otherwise accelerating the natural recovery process.” The construction of a functioning streambed and planting native vegetation along Silver Bow Creek is restoration. Montana oversees restoration.

My student, Michelle Sullivan, recently completed an undergraduate research project about the three Rs. Michelle interviewed federal, state, industry, and academic experts.. Surprisingly, half of these experts were as confused about the three Rs as were members of a lay audience.

Well, the real world is a complex place that simply does not easily conform to the language we invent in order to describe it. The intentional obfuscation of terms by BP-ARCO doesn’t help, either. Nor does the complicity of the EPA in allowing BP-ARCO sometimes to count superficial reclamation – i.e. cover-up – as remedy.

Still, the world is a complex place. Consider Warm Springs Ponds—2500 acres of beautiful, lush habitat along I-90. Despite appearances, the area is an industrial waste treatment facility for the polluted waters of Silver Bow Creek. Construction began in 1911, and work continues to this day. For example, in the early 1990s, ARCO removed more than 500,000 tons of contaminated sediments. And there are millions and millions of tons still in place—an amount probably exceeding what’s at Milltown. Furthermore, the concentrations of arsenic and other toxic metals are far higher than at Milltown.

Warm Springs Ponds faces an uncertain future. EPA, Montana, and BP-ARCO all have their fingers in the pie. EPA has not specified a remedy – or Record of Decision – for the area. In part, this is because remedy and restoration of Silver Bow Creek will take another decade or so.

Should remedy and restoration on Silver Bow Creek exceed all reasonable expectations and should the creek actually meet water quality standards, Warm Springs Ponds might no longer be needed for waste treatment. One could imagine a radical solution such as bulldozing the ponds back to the hillside in a vast dry-closure waste repository. Or, a trickle of water could be maintained over the ponds as a wet waste repository. Or, the ponds could be maintained very much as they are today.

Consider this last option—maintaining Warm Springs Ponds in perpetuity. There’s a good argument for this. Hundreds of resident and migratory birds depend upon the area; and it’s home to upland game and trophy trout. On a walk around the ponds last weekend, my family and I thrilled at the site of osprey snatching fish, sandhill cranes dancing and hooting, and Canada geese guarding their fuzzy yellow offspring. The area provides important recreational opportunities for bird watchers, anglers, waterfowl hunters, and dog trainers.
[below: eared grebe at the ponds, from www.gobirdmontana.com]
Warm Springs Ponds will not take care of themselves. Maintaining the natural resources and recreational opportunities will cost money. Toxic muck will need to be dredged periodically and hauled to a repository, the ponds’ dikes will need to be monitored and kept safe against erosion, and trails and signage will need to be maintained. For these reasons and others, the future of the area must be secured--perhaps with an operations and management trust fund, something like the $50 million stash that Butte received from BP-ARCO for assuming oversight of the Butte Priority Soils remedy.

Recently, a diverse group of conservationists came together to deliberate this issue. Citizens included representatives from groups such as Trout Unlimited and the Montana Wildlife Federation as well as interested local folks. We do not yet know what the future will bring, but we do want to play an active role in shaping it. We don’t want reclamation masquerading as remedy.

For more news about Warm Springs Ponds and other Superfund issues, please check out CFRTAC’s website at hyperlink www.cfrtac.org.

21 May 2007

Springtime Rambling

Today we are enjoying a blizzard, and a few days ago it was 80 deg F. Ahhh, springtime at 6,000 feet. Despite or maybe because of the extremes, it is a wonderful time of year.

On my mile and a half walk from home to work, I pass a great old apple trees. Now, I liked apple trees in Pennsylvania, where every abandoned farmstead and pasture is littered with them. Even on treks across seemingly remote places, it is common to come across a fine old hundred year old tree still bearing fruit thanks to regular pruning by bears.

Around Butte, though, apple trees are a little harder to come by. Most are stunted and in many years they do not even bloom. But there is a tree near Montana Tech that is sheltered from the harsh West winds and the cold North air. Last week I watched the flower buds develop:

And then the first few flowers opened--a real treat for our native humble bees:
And today, just before the blizzard blew it, it stood in all its full-flowered glory:

Like the apple trees and bees, the ants too are busy. I'm no E.O. Wilson entomologist, but I share his fascination for ants. There is an especially large old mound near my house, and they were swarming as the morning warmed (photo at right, below). The red colored soldier ants among them are fiercely aggressive. Several were nipping away on my bare ankles and legs as I poked a straw at the two in the righthand photo.

A fishing trip easily turns into an excuse to check out the latest wildflowers, like this prarie smoke, buttercup, phlox (two different kinds, I think):

The mule deer are feeding eagerly now on the new green forbs, putting on a little weight in preparation for fawning time:

And there were a few trout to be caught for the evening's supper:

And an elk on a ridge at dusk to wish me good riddance:

16 May 2007

More About President Bush the Grayling Killer

For local newspaper coverage and a great photo, see Justin Post, "Grilling the Administration," The Montana Standard (16May2007) at http://www.mtstandard.com/articles/2007/05/16/butte_top/20070516_butte_top.txt .

And for local KXLF-TV station coverage (you have to watch a commercial first), see http://www.montanasnewsstation.com/Global/story.asp?S=6524196 .

And, most importantly of all, the Center for Biological Diversity announcement of its lawsuit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/press/grayling-05-15-2007.html

15 May 2007

Bush Kills Endangered Fish: Big Hole River Grayling Funeral

A somber day, this, with a funeral ceremony commemorating the Big Hole River's late, great, fluvial Arctic grayling.

It began with a Montana grandpa and granddaughter out for a day of fishing.

"Grandpa, were there a lot of grayling in the Big Hole River when you were a kid?"

Sure were. We’d catch and release a bunch of them in a day’s fishing."

"Grandpa, do you think we'll catch and release a grayling today?"

"Well, honey, there might be one or two left. But not for long, because the Bush administration doesn’t care about endangered species."

Look, Grandpa! There's a grayling! It's beautiful."

Well, let's try to catch and release it."

Suddenly, an evil man with a terrible sneer, evil laugh, and a big cowboy hat came running onto the scene. What did he want? What would he do?

Grabbing the poor stunned creature, the crazed man screamed, "No grayling for you! Hah, hah, hah..." Then, he picked up the grayling and ran off, sneering and shouting, " No grayling left behind! NO GRAYLING LEFT BEHIND!" Then, he thrust the rare and endangered fish onto a pyre.

Grandpa, that nutcase killed the grayling! Who is he?"

"The worst President in the history of our country. "

President Dubya was followed by two sychphants wearing "FWS" t-shirts.

"Grandpa, who are those people following grayling killer Bush and begging for their jobs?"

"Those are the US Fish and Wildlife Service professionals who think job security is more important than scientific integrity and protecting your heritage.

But maybe it's NOT too late: The Endangered Species Act was designed to save our natural heritage—rare native species such as the Big the grayling a death sentence. We must appeal this ruling, and save the grayling for our children and grandchildren.

The Center for Biological Diversity has not given up on grayling, and will announce today (May 15) its 60-day Notice of Intent to sue the US Fish & Wildlife Service regarding its grayling decision. Some other groups are also deliberating a legal challenge of the agency decision.

Stay tuned for more information about a legal challenge from the Center for Biological Diversity
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/ of the recent Fish & Wildlife Service decision to let Big Hole River grayling become extinct.

Thank you to Wayne Hadley as Grandpa, Michelle Schahczenski as Granddaughter, Jeff Schahczenski as President Dubya, Hue-Chu Tu as FWS employee one, and AJ Puckett as FWS employee two.
Thank you to the Big Hole River grayling prop construction crew of Andrea & Don Stierle, Hwe-Chu Tu, Frank Ackerman, Celia & Jeff Schahczenski, Chad Okrusch, David Hobbs, AJ Puckett, and Wayne Hadley.
Thank you to Justin Ringsak, Brittany McEwen Rauch, and Justin's friend who filmed the event and who are working on the YouTube post.
And thank you to the many folks who showed up today to bear witness to the sad plight of our beautiful and endangered native fish, the Big Hole River grayling.

14 May 2007

Big Hole River Grayling: Funeral Tomorrow

Big Hole River grayling, aka Thymallus arcticus montanus, are getting some well deserved local press coverage. Tomorrow, we (the Grayling Restoration Alliance) hosts a media event--a grayling funeral:

Grayling ‘funeral’ protest Tuesday
By Justin Post of The Montana Standard - 05/14/2007
It won’t be a routine fishing trip. Not if you consider a 6-foot-long grayling and a mock funeral with President Bush your average day on the Big Hole River. A group opposed to the federal government’s recent decision not to protect the fluvial arctic grayling as an endangered species has organized a protest at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Divide public fishing access. In conjunction with the protest, the Center for Biological Diversity is expected Tuesday to file a 60-day notice that it intends to sue the federal government over its April 24 decision, said Noah Greenwald, a biologist with the non-profit group. The notice is the required first step in challenging the decision not to place grayling on the Endangered Species List under the Endangered Species Act, he said.— Justin Post may be reached at justin.post@lee.net.

Also, The Montana Standard printed a nice political cartoon yesterday:

07 May 2007

Why I Hate ATVs [revised]

I hate ATVs ("All Terrain Vehicles"). I know, I know: ATVs don't ruin the landscape, irresponsible ATV riders do. Problem is, the 10% of law abiding ATV riders get a bad name from the 90% who break all the rules.

For the past two nights, I've been dreaming of fox pups. Not cute fox pups cavorting on green grass around the den, endlessly pestering their dam, greeting each new mouse brought home for dinner... Rather, I'm dreaming of wimpering, worried pups slowly starving to death in a cold and lonely world.

You see, the sons-of-bitches who ride ATVs near my house killed the mother fox that, for several years in a row, has whelped her pups in a den that seemed well hidden in a washed out gully. It was a senseless murder. She was not killed for her beautiful winter-prime pelt, by some boy who had studied her habits, who made a well-hidden trap set, and who carefully skinned her carcass. From the appearance of the carcass and the tire tracks, the ATV sons-of-bitches shot and wounded her, and then ran her down and ran her over several times as she tried to seek refuge in the den. Even RTD seemed saddened and mystified by this senseless murder; when it lived, RTD enjoyed seeing and smelling her little canine cousin, and even giving it a brief 100-yard dash for the sheer pleasure of the race.

ATVs promote and enable evil. Kids who would otherwise walk the hills (and yes, perhaps shoot things up with their .22s) can easily cover miles and miles of ground. A passing fox is just another target in the video screen like landscape, and not something that they have any intimate and animal connection to.

ATVs are a tool of destruction. As a machine that cheapens our relationship to nature, ATVs carry a politics all their own. Emblematic of the lazy, fast-paced, superficial outdoors "experience," they transform quiet trails and mountain meadows into a BMX course.

Here is another photo, by Paul Olsen, of a once pristine meadow in the Pioneer Mountains--an area with all the values of a wilderness. Until the ATVs came along.
This is why I hate ATVs.
[Well, after I wrote this I had a nice encounter with a young man. After talking with him, I realized how dogmatic is my opinion, and how I need to revise it. This young man, who is also a father, rides with his kids and parents. They are respectful riders, and they stay on designated trails. They enjoy their submergence into nature -- albeit a motorized encounter -- fully as much as I enjoy my passive recreational experience.
You see, this young man has a physical disability that makes it inordinately difficult to clamber for miles over rocky, steep trails. He is healthy, fit, and strong. He wants his children to know nature, and he wants to experience it with them. Just as my hearing aids and glasses make it possible for me to have a more intimate and genuine relationship with nature, so does his ATV.
While this in no way diminishes the evil that irresponsible ATV riders cause, it does mean that there is a place for motorized trails (and law-abiding riders) in pristine and remote areas.
I apologize to all whom I might have offended and left out by my dogmatic pursuit of nature as a "natural" (unmotorized) experience. Live and learn. - EcoRover]

03 May 2007

Julie MacDonald Leaves US FWS: the wicked witch of the west is gone

In light of increasing public criticism and a scheduled congressional oversight hearing Julie MacDonald has resigned. This person was bad, BAD, BAD as the Department of Interior official in charge of the US Fish & Wildlife Service's endangered species program. She was, of course, a Bush appointee put into that job to insure that our natural heritage never interfere with business, industry, or the whacko rightwing way.

Here are just a shortlist of Julie MacDonald's evil doings:
- embroiled herself in conflicts of interests with land developers, friends, and family members;
- provided internal agency documents to industry and agriculture lobbyists;
- altered scientific findings based on her political and economic desires;
- belittled and threatened agency scientists who would not kow-tow to her;
- played internet role-playing games where she vented her feelings against (and divulged internal information about) endangered species; and
- submitted decisions in her own name when agency scientists refused to sign off.

As a human being, Julie MacDonald has less value than the species she was responsible for protecting. By willfully failing in her duty, she compromised her own integrity and value. This is a harsh statement, but how else can you judge someone who facilitated the extinction of precious life?

Sadly, it is too too late for the many endandered species that were harmed under her watch. And sadly, this is just one of many examples of extreme rightwing Bush interference in the workings of good government. Endangered species (such as our Big Hole River grayling) and the public are both losers. The critters that have evolved (or been created, if that's your belief) on this good, green earth have a right to persist. Likewise, we human beings have the right to live in a world that is not diminished by the loss of species. And, finally, we have a right to expect good science and truth when our government makes a decision.


Julie Cart, "Interior Department official resigns." Los Angeles Times 02 May 2007.

Felicity Barringer, "Interior Official Steps Down Over Rules Violation." The New York Times 02 May 2007.

Juliet Eilperin, "Report Faults Interior Appointee." Washington Post 30 March 2007.

Juliet Eilperin, "Bush Appointee Said to Reject Advice on Endangered Species." Washington Post 30 October 2006.

02 May 2007

Psalm of the Trout: Spring Fishing a Big Hole River Trib

Gramps, who was not particularly religious, was deeply spiritual. He loved to recite David's 23rd Psalm:
- while taking a break from scything the timothy and goldenrod along his rod-line paths that ran from the powerhouse to the individual pumping jacks at his oil lease;
- while leaning on his hoe and looking out over the garden that supplied much of our need;
- while eating lunch before a blazing hunter’s fire on a ridge over Elk Lick; and,
- while cleaning a mess of trout at a favorite hidden spring on our way home from Sugar Run.
As a boy, I always thought the poem was about fishing—all this business about a restored soul, a path beside still waters, the comfort of a good rod, a cup full of spring water, and a table laid with trout (of which the neighbors were quite jealous).

And so last evening AJ and I found ourselves beside greening pastures and the still waters of beaver dams (and the rushing water in-between). Usually, at this time of year, it is an iffy proposition to fish these tributaries of the upper Big Hole River. Always – except for this year – there are snowbanks along the creeks and sometimes shelf ice that makes the water unfishable. I knew the waters would be rising, but the many beaver dams along the meandering path of this valley floor creek slow the rush and also settle the sediment:

We were there to fish, or at least AJ was:

And I fished a bit too, though mostly I was interested in rambling around a special place, flushing a few sandhill cranes and ducks, marching to a drumming grouse, listening to the meadowlark, taking stock of the elk tracks, and wondering what climate change will do to places like this. For several days, the temperature has been in the 70s, about 20 degrees above average with correspondingly warmer nights. No wonder the creeks have risen so much, and water flows across the meadows:

The tiny wildflowers of these near-Alpine meadows are just coming on, though the hot sun of the past few days has been tough on them. With any luck we’ll get some long-soaking rains and more seasonable weather. Here’s one of my favorites, bluebells:

“Oh where, tell me where, did your Highland laddie dwell?
Oh where, tell me where, did your Highland laddie dwell?
He dwelt in Bonnie Scotland, where blooms the sweet blue bell,
And it’s oh, in my heart I lo’ed my laddie well” [traditional Celtic folksong, “Bluebells of Scotland”]

And pretty shooting stars, which my elk hunting mentor Denis Haley liked to refer to by their Montana colloquial name, “roosterheads,” just to piss off our botanist colleague Paul Sawyer. They come in both violet:

And white:

No springtime ramble would be complete without a bit of yellow from buckwheat:

C’mon AJ, get those fish cleaned:

What’s this? Several of AJ’s brookies had eaten sculpins (aka bullheads) 2 to 3 inches long. We’re talking brookies of 8 to 10 inches, sort of like a human being swallowing a dog!

We met Jan for a picnic lunch, took in the panorama of the valley, watched hundreds of elk and a half-dozen or so moose, and packed up as the setting sun chilled the air:

01 May 2007

Big Hole River Brook Trout: Go To The Fountains

Salvenlinus fontinalis, the Eastern brook trout; from the Latin salveo, to heal or save, which somehow became a traditional name for Char (the general family to which brookies belong)
+ fontinalis, of the fountains. The waters heal us, and so we drink from the fountains (as the Indigo Girls sing) and we also catch the brook trout there--drinking pure water and eating the vital essence of the waters.

I grew up on brookies in the Allegheny mountain creeks of my childhood. In that place, they are a treasure--part of the native inheritance of the land, and being living in the natural habitat where it evolved evokes the spirit of that place. Here in the Rockies, brookies were transplanted from the East in the great stocking programs of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Though they are commonly regarded as something of a weed, I still treasure them. And can kill & eat them without guilt. 20 fish or 10 pounds per day, whichever comes first.

Here's a mess of brook trout from last evening's foray to a favorite spot. They are for our friend Gloria's birthday supper:

How sad, though, to pull up to a "secret" fishing spot only to find a For Sale sign hanging on the fence. Montana for sale. Let's hope some son-of-a-bitch doesn't build a trophy house on this wet meadow and ruin everyone's view:

And what a view it is. That is a special thing about trout -- brookies included -- they almost invariably live in beautiful places. Framed by mountains, and the creek thick with willows, stacked with beaver dams, lots of woody debris, cold water gurgling down through the meadow:

Along with their Oncorhynchus mykiss (hooked-snout + Kamchatka native name) cousins, the rainbow trout. They, too, are an introduced or exotic fish (from California, like some of the people who move in and build the trophy houses). Both brookies and 'bows have largely displaced the native Salmonids, such as fluvial Arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat trout. But while it's brookie season all year long (because of their competition with and displacement of grayling), the 'bows must be released now. And that's OK, because it's their spawning season and they tend to be pretty flavorless and snaky (skinny), having put all that energy into eggs and sperm and building redds etc. Along with the brookies, I caught half a dozen 'bows yesterday; the brookies were taking beadheads or San Juan worms on the bottom, whereas the 'bows were rising to caddis flies:

Thankfully, there are a few remnants of our native heritage in the waters, such as the western pearlshell mussel (Margaritifera falcata). Like the westslope cutthroat trout, they are evolved in westslope (Pacific) watersheds, but somehow crossed the Continental Divide (probably in the past 20,000 years or so). These mussels are scarce and seem to be in decline; like grayling, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the other agencies that ought to be restoring them will probably simply document their steady decline and eventual extinction. My God, the purple nacre of the shells is beautiful:

RTD likes to swim, and gets especially enthused about it when I am catching lots of fish. She wants to be one with them, and occasionally even dives for one after it rises to a fly:

I stayed until dusk, when the elk began to come out into the meadows to feed. They are back on summer range now, filling their bellies on the new green grass in preparation for calving in late May. Most of them stay a few hundred yards off, but this one young cow was a bit bolder or perhaps just foolish: