The swirling eddys at the end of every long rip rap wall was where the slab smallies ambushed their prey. Wham, any good cast thru the lazy water would result in a slashing strike from one of these predators. The dog days of June when temperatures spiked into the high 90s was prime time. Hoards of crickets would hatch and flood the water inciting a feeding frenzy. These crickets tormented the last few ranchers in the valley, wreaked havoc on the landscaping around the trophy homes, and made golfing at the numerous courses a strange affair. Things would slow down in a few weeks when water temperatures reached the low 80’s and Montana’s Paradise valley filled with smoke from another round of forest fires. At least the launch fees from the privatized boat ramps would drop along with the water.
Things are different now, the skyline is the same, Emigrant Peak still strikes its pose but everything else has changed. In the distance, the rumble of the once busy four lane leading to Xanterra Park drowns out the gurgling coming from the weed laden water of the Yellowstone River. Industrial sized dump trucks from the nearby mines plow onward alongside the tourists and local work force. Abandoned trophy homes and golf courses line the armored riverbanks and a small city has formed in Emigrant to house the army of service workers. The valley is green, irrigated landscaping has replaced the fields of yore. The forests up high have burned and burned again morphing into a hodgepodge of downfall, second growth, and bone dry dirt. As with all the main stem rivers in Montana, the Yellowstone is no longer a cold water fishery. Their fate sealed by chronic dewatering, disease, invasive species, nutrient loads, sedimentation, and warming temperatures. The beginning of the end for the Yellowstone was in 2016, a hot summer/low water outbreak of the PKD that mysteriously kept flaring up year after year. The warning signs were everywhere; sometime around 2014 the legendary Beaverhead began showing more turbidity than ever before. The healing flows of spring runoff no longer able to wash away the practices of upstream users. The mighty Missouri started filling up with weeds choking out bug life and depriving the water of its oxygen. Small towns like Bozeman and Helena had turned into sprawling cities as the chamber of commerce’s “only in Bozeman” campaign proved very successful with the climate change refugees from fire ravaged California, the desertifying SW, and Hurricane ravaged Florida. The waterway was no longer able to carry away the nutrient load of these ever expanding cities without drastically altering the downstream biology. We ignored it and fished scuds under bobbers instead of dry flies. Freestone rivers had hoot owl restrictions during all summer months as global temps crept upward, their precious flow evaporating into welfare ranchers fields. Nothing was done. Still, the AG industry profiteered while taking exactly what the law allowed, as much as they wanted. These rivers were filling with sediment, nutrients, and pollution, dying their slow death. Unchecked development in all drainages further pressured the available water sources. The trout got smaller and smaller year to year, rumors of bass as far up as Livingston began circulating. Nobody cared, 2020 was the high point for the fly fishing industry, film tours and fancy gear. Trucks raced from river to river, rod tubes on top and boats in tow. The money would never stop flowing. Mostly these people had not been around long enough to know any different. Adding insult to injury, from his gated community where Senator Steve Daines could fish worms in the private ponds, a bill was drafted to open up Wilderness study areas to all sorts of pillaging. The only success story was the Gallatin River. After a permanent Moratorium on construction in Big Sky was implemented in 2020, the river held its own. Increased precipitation in the Madison Range from global warming helped and this river still has trout. Granted, the application process to get a day of fishing is daunting and expensive.
Ghost of years past
At least we still had the bass to catch; they were fun and helped pass the time. I am nearing 70 and big adventures to far flung places with backpacks are a thing of the past. The last remaining trout are highly sought after and live above 9000 feet in cirque lakes, too difficult for an old man like me to reach. So I take what I can get. At least us fisherman are better off than the hunters. The herds of ungulates that once filled these valleys are long gone. Chronic Wasting Disease exploded three decades ago putting an end to sport hunting in nearly all regions around the greater Xanterra region. The results were ugly, feeding grounds in Wyoming were the cause of the explosion hastening the spread and creating biological superfund sites. Some of the guilty parties did hard time, hunting in this region was part of our culture and revenge was dealt out. Misinformed locals took matters into their own hands destroying the wolf packs that offered the last best chance to cull sick animals. Xanterra’s last Grizzly bear was poisoned by an outfitter from Jackson Hole a few years later in the headwaters of Slough Creek. The only cougar south of Glacier was illegally treed and shot by someone who proudly claimed it on facebook. He walked free when judged by a jury of his peers. None of this had any effect as the disease ran its course. Mortality rates were over 90% and the immune have yet to reestablish. Most people no longer had land to hunt, as Zinke’s “open public lands bill” had put most forest service land behind private companies lock and chain. His lead deputy, Ammon Bundy made BLM land a pilfered dustbowl where not even cows could roam anymore. The racist militia movement out west, had, by force of arms turned all BLM land into their private profit centers. Hunting, unfortunately, is a past time whose time had passed. Sportsmen kept voting republican solely on masculinity and guns, while the environment and public lands were being actively privatized and destroyed by the party. Like a mentally ill patient punching themselves in the face over and over, hunters and fisherman kept pulling the wrong lever until they had nothing left. Luckily there were still hunting videos to watch late at night after another tinder date had fallen through.
Chronic Wasting Disease
As bad as things are around here they are worse elsewhere. Outside of a few rivers flowing from remnant glaciers in Olympic National Park, salmon and steelhead have become functionally extinct from the lower 48. Sometime in the mid 2020’s they just stopped showing back up. None. Science’s best guess was ocean acidification. A trophic cascade was set off as the Puget Sound’s iconic Orcas, the J pod died of starvation. Some species exploded while others cratered. The whole ecosystem was and is in flux at the loss of this keystone species and their apex predator. Disease outbreaks, pollution, global warming was scrambling the board. Feedback loops intensified as CO2 was released from tundra, methane bubbed up from the ocean depths, Amazon rain forests faltered, ocean currents shut down, and the worst case scenarios from the scientific community became reality. Up and down the west coast of America, drainages once impervious to wildfire were seeing climax fire events followed by atmospheric rivers which choked waterways with debris and sediment. But hey, my friend saw a rooster fish off the Oregon Coast…..
Young J52 was accompanied by his mother (seventeen and a half year old, J36) and an adult male (twenty-six year old L85, potentially his father) at least five miles away from the other members of J and L pods that were foraging within a mile or two of the coastline from Camper Creek to Bonilla Point west of Port Renfrew, British Columbia. The observation of this sad event was at sunset, and the young whale appeared very lethargic while barely surfacing as the two adults were swimming around in circles and not feeding while attentive to the young whale. We estimated J52 was within hours, if not minutes, of death at the time, and he was not present during the J pod foray into Puget Sound on 19 September, though his mother and L85 were. The mother did not appear overly emaciated on either occasion, but she is lean and seems distressed.
To the North in British Columbia the story was the same. The canary in the Coal mine was 2017 when sockeye and Steelhead numbers on the Frasier collapsed. The culprits were many but signs pointed to the proliferation of toxic fish farms running up and down the Inside Passage. The diabolic, purposeful, corporatized, profit scheme destroyed wild runs thus making us reliant upon their product was later discovered. The perpetrators walked. Now the only salmon at market is hormone filled and toxic, not fit for a dog. Mines, logging, and numerous toxic spills from tar sand ports destined for China all acted to further toxify the coastline. Things got dicey between the US and Canada after a super tanker emanating from the newly constructed Kinder Morgan pipeline depot wrecked in the Strait of Juan de Fuca spoiling beaches for miles in all directions. The cross border rift was exasperated after a tailing pond just to the south of Alaska failed and fouled much of the Tongass with heavy metals. One river is Canada still has a functioning salmon run, the mighty Skeena. 35 years ago, first nations made their last stand here by blocking roads coming into their territory. They occupied the fish farms and bravely held their ground against the extraction industries for decades. No outsider really knows, but rumors are they still harvest salmon there.
Klamath River fish kill circa 2002
This brings us to the last frontier, Alaska. 2016 was the crucial year. While National Monuments were being gutted in the southwest, the largest industrial projects since the dam building era began in earnest. The election of Donald Trump, appointment of Scott Pruit to EPA, and Ryan Zinke to interior triggered a veritable gold rush in the north. Immediately, they reopened the application process for Pebble Mine, dismantled logging restrictions in the Tongass, drilling in ANWR was added onto their corporate tax cut bill, and in Trumps second term, offshore drilling, the Ambler road, the damming of the Susitna. Alaska’s wildest places were open for business. In a collaborative effort between environmental groups and foreign mining firms, Pebble Mine was green lighted. This opened the door, as power from the massive new Trump Dam on the Susitna was run over the Alaska Range into the new mining district in Bristol Bay. All those test holes they dug quickly morphed into massive open pit mines in all directions. The result was inevitable, numerous rivers running into the bay were fouled and to date over 60% of the salmon run has disappeared. In ANWR, the calving grounds of the largest caribou herds were quickly industrialized and the collapse of our largest ungulate land migration was a given. The legendary rivers and hunting ground of Alaskas wildest Range, the Brooks, now looked out over pipelines and drill pads. On a positive note, what rivers were not fouled began seeing stray salmon arrive for the first time ever. Global warming was pushing them further north than they had ever been seen. Another massive mining district was opened on the Kobak with the construction of a long haul road thru a National Park and native lands. This effectively meant that every wild area from Bristol Bay to the Arctic Ocean was being pillaged and as with all large scale industrial projects, the ecosystem paid the price. As the Colorado River dried up, armed conflict began. California, in a desperate attempt to find the fresh water they needed, built an 8 quadrillion dollar diversion dam and piped Alaska’s Copper River to Los Angeles. This pipeline was in operation for only 6 months before the massive earth quake on the Juan De Fuca subduction zone destroyed it. The ill faded project forever decimated this legendary Sockeye River. Many of the native subsistence villages from the North Slope to the River deltas in Bristol Bay, still to this day, stubbornly refuse to be drown out by drug ridden man camps and dirty money.
The ecocide we were witnessing on land played out equally as quick in the ocean. Searching for that epic tarpon or rooster fish was always a patient affair. Maybe a day, maybe a week? When things became a month it was a wake up call for a lot of sport fisherman. We heard about Reefs being bleached somewhere or another fishery pummeled by drift nets. Red flags were flying high when sometime around 2016, 75% of the world largest reef, the Great Barrier was bleached, never to recover. Experts were literally brought to tears as this wonder of nature all but disappeared overnight. It was the same story everywhere; acidification, overfishing, and global warming were wreaking havoc. Nobody could even track it as it was happening so fast, the undocumentable speed of collapse was scary. Salmon were gone, sardines no longer arrived, species showing up in places they had never been seen. Trophic collapse had all sorts of ramification known and unknown. By 2010 over 90% of the worlds fisheries were depleted with no end in sight. Failure after failure of the Dakota access and Keystone XL pipelines soiled the Mississippi River. Refining facilities and chemical plants on the gulf coast were devastated by ever larger hurricanes, and an ever increasing load of fertilizer from desperate farmers upstream resulted in the Gulf of Mexico becoming barren of any sea life. The worlds oceans were collapsing from the bottom up and the top down. What that meant was fish went from 20 dollars a pound to a hundred dollars a pound real fast. Tofish, like tofurkey but fish flavored and textured became very popular with what we called Millenials. A new generation of kids coming up, who, for obvious reasons, were rejecting the failing capitalistic paradigm. But it was too late, the generation known as the “me” generation stubbornly held onto power and doubled down on their failed economic, environmental, and imperial policies.
The Grind, how we treat out oceans
It seems obvious now in hind sight. But at the time we were just trying to get by, make money. The devaluation of the American petro dollar and bursting of the second housing bubble of the 2020’s slowed growth to a crawl. China’s and Europes new green alliance began dictating world affairs and was much more powerful than the Trump-Putin oil/military alliance. Yet we plowed on and plowed under many of the thing we took for granted. The Chinese-European proprietary invention of cold fusion put us to second rate status for good, bankrupting the war torn Middle East and made the American greenback into a repeat of the ruble after the fall of the USSR. Putin did not care, from his prison cell in Malta, he finally claimed victory over his cold war rival. In 2024, when given the choice between the republican or the republican light, the disgusted electorate didn’t show up and for the fourth time in a row Hillary gave her concession speech. Her crowd was an aging and diminishing group of rich white women wearing pink hats and a small cadre of child molesting Hollywood moguls. The whole political class was bought off, rotten to the core. This ushered in the Mike Pence administration, whatever funding was still available for green energy and research was made illegal; the wholesale rejection of science was complete when it became a jail able offense to say the world global warming. Public education ended in favor of a church voucher program hastening our descent into ignorance, denial, and blind faith. This ideology was strengthened by the military industrial complex and oil companies who owned the internet and all information was vetted through a centralized distribution center in Houston Texas. It ended with a whimper as our once mighty economy collapsed for good sometime around 2035. Much like the Prussian empire did decades ago, the once United States split into a loose conglomeration of six weak and isolated countries. We were not the first empire to guarantee our demise by soiling our own bed. At a time when the biosphere was collapsing we were glued to smart phones that made us anything but, arguing about what sign should go on a bathroom door, and turned reality television into daily reality. Looking back after all these years, why did we rush forward to destroy things that nature took so long to build? Our insatiable appetite for growth sealed our fate as we turned away from sustainability for short term profit. I am just a fisherman, 30 years ago I envisioned myself during these years ticking off things from the bucket list. Now they are all but gone. To think these things are permanent is to not have reference or reverence. Ever since the first steam engine was built and the first barrel of oil was internally combusted this has been the path, increasing in intensity and speed.
Note: As bad as this sounds, it could be even worse. Problems such as, extreme climate change, refugee crisis, depletion of top soil, availability of groundwater resources, complete ecosystem collapse, a failing biosphere, peak oil, famine, failure of agriculture systems, failure of economic and political institutions, a plague of cancer from our toxified food and environment, drug resistant viruses and bacteria, disease jumping from the overpopulated domesticated animal pool to the overpopulated human population, unsanitary and overpopulated conditions leading to the next plague and end of civilization; Racial, economic, nuclear, biological, civil,and/or resource wars. This dystopian future we are hurdling towards is not set in stone. But unless we recognize it, embrace science, and make a quantum leap in our value set, it is all but guaranteed. What will our children think of the future we handed them?
Oil Company Mercenaries brace each other against the recoil
Standing Rock, North Dakota
As the ice disappeared, starving Polar bears began rummaging around the villages for any scraps. They are now extinct, the last few were captured in a failed attempt to breed them in captivity.
Frontline documentary on the treasonous militia movement:
Documentary on the great barrier reef dying in real time:
Worst case global warming scenarios coming true in real time:
Scott Pruitt dismantles protections for Bristol Bay:
Fish farms are atrocious, a biological disaster for wild salmon:
Orcas starving to death as the salmon disapear:
Same in the arctic with the polar bears:
Arctic National Wildlife refuge opens to drilling:
Tongass roadless and Old growth restrictions to be lifted
Montana’s rivers in bad shape:
Senator Steve Daines proposes elimination of Wilderness study areas
Mountain journal exposes the lies and politics behind Wyoming’s hunting industrial complex in a three part expose on Chronic Wasting Disease:
Klamath River fish kill:
Fraiser River Salmon following the Columbia river model, collapse:
Alaska’s proposed Susitna Dam
Alaska’s proposed Ambler road
Dakota access and keystone xl do what they do. Leak oil:
Canada’s shitty mines and shittier tar sands:
The Boomers are a sociopathic Generation
They took everything their parents built, profiteered, privatized, perpetually lowered their taxes, chronically ignored infrastructure, denied science and gave nothing back. In turn blaming millennials for what they destroyed:
The coming Collapse of the American Empire