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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. During 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 word 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 coming Collapse of the American Empire
Ever since dead whitefish began sloshing up on the shores of the mighty Yellowstone River, a lot of ink has been spilled over the status of this most iconic of rivers. To the untrained eye, Paradise Valley and this waterway appear to embody everything that draws people to our rivers. Sprawling views in every direction of a relatively untouched land, clear and cold water teeming with wild trout, and a river corridor supporting all sorts of fauna. When one lifts the rosy glasses a very different picture begins to emerge.
This brawling river flows natural and protected out of Yellowstone Lake, undammed and wild as it tumbles over one of our most iconic falls then rages through The Grand and The Black Canyons of the Yellowstone. As it exits the Park it runs headlong into humanity. In Gardner, these flows are immediately augmented by an ever increasing amount of treated sewage being directly discharged. Soon after, head gates and canals begin diverting small and large quantities of its precious flow. Cold water tributaries flowing from the Absorakees and Gallatin Range are completely disconnected, being diverted to the farm fields nearby. This critical source of cold water to the heart of the valley is all but lost. What should be a high desert valley turns green for most the summer, golf courses and hay fields suck much of the life force. Water quality quickly begins to diminish as silt, nitrogen, phosphorous, and temperature regimes begin to change. Now, I am not a hydrologist, biologist, or any other sort of ist but I have eyes and see the water turning yellower, warmer, and slower. Governor Bullock said he would follow the science, that science leads to one place, the head gate at every irrigation canal.
Above humanity, the mighty Yellowstone flows clear and cold through the Black Canyon
All this is exacerbated by extensive levying and an ever increasing demand on groundwater. The rip rap that often hides the largest of fish also acts to disconnect the very riparian areas that all flora and fauna rely upon. Back Channels so critical to spawning are left dry in perpetuity, the very hydrology changes as the flow is hemmed in between these rock walls. This acts to wash gravel downstream, where the vast majority of bugs would survive; left in its place is larger substrate not suitable for much other than using as an anchor. Critical spring creeks, Armstrongs and Depuy’s, are actually meant to be side channels and flushed in high water years. Instead they are levied off behind no trespassing signs, privatized for the few and are slowly silted in, which, to a degree, deprives the main stem of this vital cold water infusion. The floods of ’97 actually took this ground back, back hoes quickly repaired the “damage.” Every well and groundwater fed center pivot system is lowering the water table. Along the whole river, springs large and small discharge their cold water into the bottom of the river. This hydrology is being lost with every gallon of water being taken. This water is critical to keep the river cold in summer and where these fish lay to over winter. The AG industry is a resource extraction industry, no different than the oil industry or a mining firm. What they extract is our water, and just like those other industries, they pay little or nothing for it, abuse this public resource for personal gain, and when shit goes bad, the public pays the price and the taxpayer picks up the bill, always.
Headgates dot every main stem and tributary in Montana,
Where are we? According to the best available science, the virus that caused the fish kill has existed in the waterway for years, last summer’s low flows and high temps finally engaged it to fish kill levels. Save the Yellowstone? Much public outcry has been expended on a proposed mine, articles about global warming dot the landscape. While these are huge and important issues there is much more. Marketing campaigns have been launched and donations accepted as people rally against the proposed mine, meanwhile the river dies a death by a thousand cuts. Industrial level commercialization of the resource is furthering the decline as hundreds of guided trips a day pound away at the fish with not so much as a peep about regulating numbers. This is of course exacerbated by the fact global warming and water diversions are hammering other popular rivers. Hoot owl restrictions begin earlier and last longer, the Yellowstone ends up taking the brunt, as people flock to the last open stretch of water.
As Montana’s economy evolves away from resource extraction to tourism, these new industries must unite to protect, improve, and preserve the resources they make money off of. A holistic approach to the greater needs to be implemented. This all starts with minimum in stream flow legislation. Without that everything else is pointless. Single issues like a mine, or small projects like paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase a few CFS from a rancher, are simply not seeing the forest through the trees. Whatever improvements are being made with habitat or flows are nowhere near keeping pace with global warming and increased residential and commercial water use. The pressures on these ecosystems are relentless, occurring every hour of every day, and require valley wide rehabilitation. What is true on the Yellowstone is true on every river.
This is where I would usually insert a link to relevant groups in regards to minimum stream flow legislation but there seems to be none. Instead we hear platitudes about “resiliency,” neo liberal schemes with fancy names like “mitigation banks,” laughably ineffective voluntary drought irrigation cutbacks, and tears shed over “stakeholders.” These “stakeholders” being the very demographic who deny global warming are in turn blaming it for the lack of water, their rather large straw sucking the precious flow for their own fiscal gain. It may come as breaking news, but we are all stakeholders and this is clearly outlined in our state’s constitution. As the picture of the true costs of global warming on our waterways comes into focus, the reality is, if we are to preserve our cold water fisheries, minimum stream flow legislation is our only course of action. Saying it cant be done is weak tea. So, I give to you one brave man who has stood for what is right for decades, as to why this article is titled the way it is, well you can connect the dots there:
Our past times, many of our professions, and indeed our existance are inherently connected to the environment. Support businesses and manufacturers who hold these values. Patagonia is fearlessly leading the charge, Orvis is quietly a force for good, REI, Black Diamond and many others. Non Profits like the Center for Biological diversity, Earth Justice, the Wild Fish Conservancy, the Upper Missouri waterkeepers, MEIC, and alliance for the Wild Rockies are who to support and more importantly where you want your money to go. Do your research on this, many small advocacy groups do great things well many larger well known organizations sold out decades ago.
There is another way of ranching, good land stewards do this voluntarily, unfortunately they are in the minority. Minimum stream flow legislation is the only way to force their hand on a large scale. It is not an either or scenario:
How Bad can it really be? These three rivers join to form the Jefferson. This was toted as a collaborative success. The lower Jefferson died an ugly death last summer. The fish kill on it was not witnessed because nobody was on it to see. It peaked at over 75 degrees, it looked like a stagnant series of puddles, ranchers were busily digging in the riverbed with their backhoes creating coffer dams to form pools and siphon the last of the water. 20 cfs at the bottom, meanwhile the three rivers that make this river were gushing at nearly 900 cfs. Is 22 cfs a fair allotment?
A framed print of these cutthroat trout would make a great fly fishing gift.
Underwater photograph of a Sockeye Salmon in Alaska.
High Country Cutthroat
The fabled rivers of Montana hold sway in the minds of fisherman the world over. Look the states over and you would be hard pressed to find a more ideal line up of flowing water to toss feather and fur to eagerly awaiting wild trout. Winding their way back and forth, hemmed in by stunning mountain ranges on both sides, the cottonwood filled river bottoms are the stuff of dreams. There is another Montana though; in nearly every cirque, through vast basins, and precariously perched on rugged plateaus there lays the high mountain lakes. While angry brown trout and football shaped rainbows have taken over the main stem rivers, high up in these rugged wilderness areas, the true native Cutthroat trout runs the roost.
Locked up beneath ice for more months than not, these lakes and their inhabitants survive on the fringes. A barren and bleak winter-scape springs to life when the snow recedes. A circus of wildflowers and game animals rush to utilize the short growing season. Cutthroat trout, having sat dormant for many months, feed with reckless abandon, bum rushing the tributary creeks in a furious attempt to spawn and bring about their next generation. The original native fish’s last stronghold, they survive in the high alpine lakes in the margins. Their riotous red cheeks and vibrant yellow hues look barley real. Cold and clean water is their lifeblood, these Cutthroat have been pushed all the way to where granite and ice thrust skyward. Where aquamarine waters pool beneath talus slopes just far enough away from the long reach of man.
Spectacles to behold no doubt, high Alpine lakes are a photographers delight, and a fisherman’s nirvana. As with anything worth chasing it never comes easy. Heavy loads up daunting switchbacks keep the masses at bay. Ten thousand feet in the Northern Rockies can bring fearsome cold, and soaking thunderstorms. Every bump in the night brings frightful thoughts that a rogue Grizzly bear wit, mayhem on her mind may stalk just beyond the reach of your headlamp. The duality of splendor and suffering is what keeps these places for the few.
No matter how many times you look at it on a map or on Google earth, arriving to your destination brings that sense of discovery and awe. While the work is hard and the fish most likely small, I always set aside a few weeks to escape into the wild. To mindlessly throw flies at cruising fish, to see the thick band of the Milky Way painted across the sky, to cavort around with the picas and Mule Deer, and just to get away.
A collaborative Blog Post featuring Photos by Roger Mosley and Fish Eye Guy Photography
with words by Jill Lutz
The Olympic peninsula, in all its grandeur, is the gem of the Pacific Northwest. The peninsula is home to a diverse ecosystem that drives the peoples people that call it home and the waters that bless its coast. With the snow capped peaks that feed the headwaters of a multitude of rivers and creeks, the rain clouds that become trapped within valleys bring forth the ethereal rainforests, and the hypnotizing sea stacks that checkerboard the coastal waters. Pick any direction to explore and you are bound to be in awe of its beauty. The connection to the pacific ocean, and the peninsula, have been vital to Seattle and the surrounding communities, creating a sea faring culture which is unstoppable by the changing industrial and technological advances within and around the city. The Olympic Peninsula functions as the glimmer in the urbanite’s eye, inspiring their appreciation for the wonders of the natural world that exist in their backyard.
Although the peninsula’s rural landscape may fool visitors in to thinking they have escaped time, the rivers and oceans tell a different story. The salmon that nourish indigenous cultures and give balance to the ecosystem as a whole are in dire straits. Loss of habitat due to the usual culprits has taken its toll. Decades of unsustainable logging and misplaced hydroelectric projects have worked hand in hand with hatcheries and overharvest to make these salmon runs a shadow of their former self. Desperate attempts to stave off the extinction of the most iconic sports fish, the mighty steelhead, are underway as well as the largest dam removal project ever, the two dams on the Elwha River near Port Angeles. A campaign by Wild Olympics is in full swing to set aside vital habitat abutting the National Park. The headwaters of most rivers are protected and there is no reason the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic salmon species cannot return to their full glory.
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Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon
A national treasure
At the turn of the century, the industrial revolution ran like a wildfire up and down the west coast leaving ecosystems in tatters and the once iconic salmon runs a mere shadow of their former selves. Dams were erected, forests were chopped down, mines constructed, and irrigation diversions all sapped the once vibrant salmon rearing grounds of what was needed to sustain their populations. Canneries were some of the first buildings constructed along the Columbia and overharvest was commonplace. Before we even knew what existed, it was gone. The keystone species which supported all forms of life entered a precipitous decline continuing to this day. In the far north, there was one place which avoided this fate, Bristol Bay, Alaska. This vast region was protected by its shear remoteness, harsh climate, and unforgiving wildness. Like an apparition from a bygone era, sockeye salmon still pour out of the Pacific Ocean by the millions to these untouched and pristine waters. The relentless arm of industry long held at bay now has its eyes squarely set on developing and thus destroying this, our last functioning mega salmon run. Pebble Mine is the vanguard for an industry which wants to build massive open pit mines in this delicate region. The battle against Pebble has reached a critical stage as just recently the EPA announced they will use the clean water act to begin a process that may block the proposed mine entirely.
No single species defines the Pacific coast more so than salmon. While efforts to restore and preserve these salmon runs in the lower 48 continue, in Bristol Bay things exist as they always have. A thousands year old native culture rely on them, the tundra springs to life due to them, apex predators gorge on their abundance, and sustainable economies rely on their return. The Aleut-Alutiq, Athabascan, and Yup’ik cultures catch, dry, smoke, and subsist off this source of protein as they have for time immemorial. Their first language is their own and they are the most intact native cultures in North America. Salmon push to the headwaters of every available river system resulting in an irreplaceable transfer of nutrients from sea to sky. These still intact salmon runs support the largest populations of Grizzly bears on the planet. Caribou herds graze the salmon fertilized plants and everything relies on this food chain, even down to the smallest plants and organisms. Sustainability is more than a buzzword when it comes to the commercial fishery. This massive region supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery on earth and is managed in such a way to go on forever. It is a billion dollar a year industry that provides the healthiest of food to the most discerning of consumers. Sportsmen worldwide, dream of someday wetting a line here and this thriving industry in itself is worth another hundred million dollars, providing employment for thousands. This place overwhelms the senses and enlivens the spirit; its mere existence gives us hope and a place to dream of. Bristol Bay now faces its most dire of threats at its very heart. Mining interests have found some of the largest deposits of precious metals on earth and plan industrial development as large as any projects on earth.
The intensity with which this ecosystem and landscape hum is unmistakable. At its center are Lake Illiamna and the Nushagak River. Alaska’s largest lake and its tributaries are responsible for almost half the regions sockeye salmon and represent the largest salmon run on earth. The Nushagak is the next largest producer and one of the top king salmon rivers on the planet. The proposed Pebble Mine is directly above these drainages and exploratory mining is occurring throughout the region. Hard rock mining of this magnitude spells disaster for the fish, the culture, and the ecosystem. In scientific terms these fish stocks are known as a strong portfolio. The genetic diversity of so much productivity guarantees their sustainability and vibrancy. The potential loss of this core population threatens not only the immediate area, but the region as a whole.
Salmon are counted by the hundreds as they wriggle over concrete barriers up and down the Pacific coast, while in Bristol Bay they are stockpiled by the millions. So numerous is this run, if you were to stack them nose to tail they would stretch from Bristol Bay to Australia and back. The fact that salmon still exist on many southern rivers is a testament to their fierce determination and evolutionary mastery. Stragglers still perpetuate their species against the steepest of odds. Their efforts know no limit. A Sockeye salmon known only as Lonesome Larry was the only one to return to a Lake in Idaho after swimming 900 miles and passing 8 dams. Redfish Lake, which in a bygone era, saw tens of thousands of these ocean going vagabonds return and had nearly lost its namesake. This story has been repeated over and over from the Puget Sound to Los Angeles. The usual culprits, who led to the downfall of our iconic Pacific Coast species, now want a repeat performance in this last great place. Bristol Bay is the last treasure in the chest and it is where the line will be drawn. The EPA now has its chance to preemptively veto Pebble Mine by using the 404(c) clause of the clean water act. If ever there was a legitimate case for this, the headwaters of the greatest salmon runs on earth is it.
We are down to the last few days, Sign this NOW! www.savebristolbay.org/takeaction
This 3 month odyssey to Bristol Bay was funded by individuals who believed and supported me via kickstarter, it was backed by the good stewards at Orvis and lent a huge hand by the Egdorfs. Thank you. The only way I am able to share this content is through this blog: http://fisheyeguyphotography.wordpress.com/
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The Greater Yellowstone Region
Smack dab in the center of North America and atop the spine of the continental divide there is a spot where magma from the center of the earth relentlessly pushes towards the surface. Known as a supervolcano, its last rupture was responsible for one of earth’s great mass extinctions and still to this day it smolders and shakes. This great tumult gave us the Greater Yellowstone Region, one of this planets most awesome landscapes and vibrant of ecosystems. The center of gravity in the Northern Rockies, from its deep and consistent snowpack, rivers pour off this plateau like spokes of a wheel. The Missouri, Snake, Green, and Yellowstone Rivers all begin as small trickles here amongst herds of buffalo and elk. Grizzly bears, moose, and wolves roam in an age old dance of survival. Circumnavigating the plateau brings you from beacon to beacon. Mountains and ranges so distinctive they have become the things of lore along with the legendary trout that swim beneath them. To the south, the Tetons roar their way skyward above the Snake River where crayon colored Cutthroat trout pounce on anything floating. The Mighty Sphinx is lord of the Madison Range and the river known as the fifty mile riffle needs no introduction. Emigrant Peak and Absorkees to the north gaze down on the Yellowstone River flowing freely towards the great plains. Three species of native trout have carved their niches on separate sides and all are in peril. John Colter, Jim Bridger, and numerous trappers would return from exploring this place, describing its thermal features, wildlife, and landscapes. Nobody ever believed them, dismissing their stories as mere mountain man myth. The Place is real and still to this day it is the wildest place left in the lower 48. I count myself as lucky to have chosen this region to be my home since I was 18 years old.
Snake River Fine Spotted Cutthroat
Teton Star Trails
Tetons and their Native Cutties (artwork by AD Maddux)
The Yellowstone River
My struggle to survive as an artist has made me feel like a mere visitor to my home region. A decade ago I set up my pictures at the first of many outdoor art shows I would end up doing. Since that day all my time and effort during summers has been spent printing, framing, and selling my pictures. With limited resources I would try to make hay while the sun shined. This allowed me only a few precious days a month to be in the field. The romanticized vision of an outdoor photographer meeting the reality of a starving artist. Some way, somehow this is my summer to spend every day plying the clear water tributaries of our national treasure in search of the most epic of trout.
“Clients” of mine, Big Spenders….
Freeing the Heel, stoking the mind in Montana.
Photos By Ned Gall and Patrick Clayton
If you have been lucky enough to spend any time choking on Bridgers cold smoke these last few years, you have no doubt seen this guy ripping around. Hair flying wildly around more reminiscent of the sixties, smiling, laughing; the kind of ski bum you think of from a bygone era; every line he skis seems to end with him airborne. Matt Shortland stands out here in Montana as the embodiment of positivity and stoke. Much like this small community run nonprofit ski hill, he is not concerned with making a name for himself, getting rich, or being the biggest anything. Existing in the now and living for the feeling of floating through feet of low density blower somewhere north of everybody else. Matt arrived here at 18 having never skied a day in his life, 7 short years later he sets the bar, skiing the same craggy limestone clefts that Scott Schmidt, Doug Coombs, and Tom Jungst made famous. His skills have taken him to the podium at telemark skiing’s premier freeride competition and his passion for the sport has made him a friend to us all. A photo tribute to a person and place:
Matt is the portrait of a young man with an indomitable spirit. Through grit, persistence, and determination he has been able to fashion his life in a way that reflects the essence of a die-hard ski bum. Who would have ever predicted that a kid from a land without snow would have grown into a man who has become a testament to the happiness and freedom that can be found in skiing? It is our pleasure to call Matt our friend and it means more to me than you will ever know to be able to call him my brother. -Daniel Ryan
Thanks to Ned Gall, Matt Shortland, Daniel Ryan and everyone bringing the stoke.
Bristol Bay, ALaska
Bristol Bay, ALaska